How’s it working out in the Age of Trump?
In many of my previous columns, I’ve invoked the term “American Exceptionalism.” As you might sense, my use of the term has been overwhelmingly ironic.
With that as background, I thought it would be appropriate to inspect the definition of the term American Exceptionalism and what it actually stands for in the “Age of Trump.”
American exceptionalism is one of three related ideas:
- The first is that the history of the United States is inherently different from that of other nations. In this view, American exceptionalism stems from its emergence from the American Revolution, thereby becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism,” based on liberty, equality before the law, individual responsibility, republicanism, representative democracy and laissez-faire economics. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.”
- Second is the idea that the US has a unique mission to transform the world. As Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg address (1863), Americans have a duty to ensure, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
- Third is the sense that the United States’ history and mission give it a superiority over other nations.
In Ronald Reagan’s version of American Exceptionalism, “America is the shining city on the hill.”
Wow, pretty heady stuff, this American Exceptionalism!
Given that, inspecting how in today’s “Age of Trump” America stacks up against the the ideas of American Exceptionalism and how we’re living up to Reagan’s “Shining City,” might be instructive.
- America is exceptional because its citizens have been banned from traveling to the EU because the U.S. has so mis-handled the Coronavirus pandemic, it continues to see a high number of cases. While citizens of over 50 non-EU countries will be able to travel to the EU beginning July 1, including, Australia, New Zealand, China, Cuba, Japan, South Korea, Morocco and Vietnam, citizens of the United States will be excepted from this travel. That’s real-live American Exceptionalism.
- America is exceptional because it’s Coronavirus cases per capita are among the highest in the world, bested only by Peru, Singapore, Chile and Kuwait. Exceptional!
- America is exceptional because we have a bi-cameral legislature in which one House, the Senate…the Upper House, is so politicized that dozens of bills passed by the Lower House, the house of the people, are not even brought to the floor for a vote. One of those bills is the one that will allow Washington DC to become the 51st state. As it stands now the 705,749 citizens of the district, with a population bigger than the current states of Vermont and Wyoming and about the population of the 49th state, Alaska, pay more federal taxes than 20 “real” states, and pay those taxes without representation. Disenfranchising almost three-quarters of a million U.S. citizens for only one reason – if Washington DC becomes a state it will likely send two additional Democrats to the Senate – is truly “exceptional.” (No, I did not come up with that rationale on my own – here are the words of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of this outrageous house of our Congress: “They plan to make the District of Columbia a state — that’d give them two new Democratic senators.”)
- Continuing on the DC statehood issue, America is exceptional because Americans can elect a member of that august body, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark), a man who is wearing a run for the presidency in 2024 on his sleeve, who uses the following argument to support his opposition to the bill: “Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state. A new state of Washington would not be.” What does well-rounded working-class mean?” I’ll let you figure it out, but I will give you a hint…1.3% of Wyoming’s citizens are African-American; 49% of Washington DC’s citizens are African-American. Hmm. Not to mention that Wyoming pays $4.9 million in federal taxes while Washington DC pays $28.4 million. Guess they didn’t teach the Boston Tea Party in school in Arkansas – you know that incredible affair with the balloons and banners proclaiming, “No Taxation Without Representation.” I wonder how they taught the Civil War in Arkansas? Never mind, I can only imagine…in a truly exceptional way!
- America is exceptional because unlike other powerful countries, the United States has closer relationships with its foes than its friends. The most recent example: The U.S. is pulling troops from Germany, since World War II, the bastion America has maintained to help protect our European allies from the threat from first, the Soviet Union and it’s Eastern Bloc, and now from Putin’s Russia; a pull-back meant to punish Germany for not contributing sufficient resources according to America’s president and his administration.
- America is exceptional because it is led by a man who is supposed to be the ultimate recipient of all U.S. intelligence, who said he did not know that Russia had secretly offered Afghan militants bounties to kill U.S. Troops. This, despite confirmed reports that the Trump administration has been deliberating for months about what to do about this stunning intelligence assessment. And despite the fact that during this “deliberative” period, this “leader,” rather than doing something about Putin’s U.S. troop “bounty hunting,” chose to announce to the world that Russia should be readmitted to the G7/8. So rather than punish an adversary who is actively engaged in killing U.S. soldiers, he is attempting to reward that adversary. Truly exceptional!
- America is a “federation of states” bestowing much power to those states and their governors (except when it’s not in the best interests of the federal administration). But that’s not the exceptional part – plenty of countries are organized on a federal basis. America is exceptional because its citizens have the such lack of intelligence and foresight that they elect governors who are sycophantic, toadies like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Georgia’s Brian Kemp, Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Texas’ Greg Abbot, among others, whose “leadership” is distinguished by simply doing the bidding of their “dreadful leader.” In so doing, their most egregious actions have made the Coronavirus pandemic in their states even worse than it should have been. Truly exceptional – not because of these leaders’ ignorance, gullibility and general obsequiousness, not because of any beliefs or convictions, but only to be able to maintain their personal power and presidential favor.
- America is exceptional because of its devotion to memorializing, through monuments, statues and flags, enemies of the United States…people and symbols commemorating an unlawful insurrection, by rebels and traitors against their country and its Constitution. But even more exceptional is the fact that finally, as the movement to take down these symbols is in full swing, we have an president, from New York of all places, who is more fond of Robert E. Lee than Ulysses S. Grant!
There are many, many, more examples of American Exceptionalism during this “Age of Trump.” Feel free to write back/comment if you want to add to the list. Just be aware, incredibly, the ones I’ve detailed above have occurred in only the last few days and weeks.