America is not exceptional

16 05 2011

Something that bothers me about the American political dialogue, especially on the right, is the idea of American exceptionalism. America might have been on the leading edge of a wave of European colonies breaking with their distant governments and declaring independence. Rather than submitting to a distant government, headed by a monarch, American colonists decided to rebel and form a new type of society, one governed by law that is determined by a representative democracy.

That sounds great, and it is, but you also have to consider that we are still working toward the ideals that were outlined in documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Things did not turn out entirely as planned. It took 70 years before slavery was abolished. It was another century before the civil rights movement ensured equal voting rights for all citizens. Women were denied equal voting rights until 1920. It has only been 91 years since women in the United States were allowed to vote.

Even now, we are fighting about whether to grant equal rights to same-sex couples, among other things. We are second to none in debt. Our illiteracy rates and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the industrialized world. America is becoming scientifically illiterate and intellectually shallow. We are the only industrialized nation not to ensure all of its citizens can afford to see a doctor.

These are not things to be proud of. We might have had grounds, in the past, to say that America was the greatest nation on Earth, not anymore. We have fallen behind by not moving forward. “Exceptional” implies that there is nothing that we can learn by looking outside our borders when our friends and allies in Europe have done so many of the things we have not and they have done them successfully. Maybe if Americans got off their high horse and really considered how other nations have dealt with their problems, we could deal with ours and move on.


For some entertaining discussion on this topic:

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