America Is Hardly Exceptional

America has always had a problem with “doublespeak” – it says one thing but does another. Any qualitative sense of “American exceptionalism” is a product of this breakdown in logic: America is exceptional only because it has the arrogance to think so, and the economic, military, and political clout to make everyone else think it. 

Not quite everyone. In his blistering 2005 Nobel acceptance speech, British playwright Harold Pinter said: “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.”

Pinter argues that the way America repeatedly bluffs democracy to guise its project for world domination represents a “brilliant, even witty…act of hypnosis.” 

Even now “progressive” President Barack Obama has created a group of intelligence, military and politics leaders armed with a “kill list” to assassinate American citizens worldwide without any say-so from Congress. And this comes after propping up the dictatorships of Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, Saddam in Iraq, and Pol Pot in Cambodia, after genocides, illegal depositions, and war crimes. Millions and millions have died. 

Yet – testament to the “hypnosis” – we are now discussing whether or not “American exceptionalism” is a good thing. 

From its beginning, America was built on hypocrisy. Thomas Jefferson could extol the virtues of freedom while owning more than 600 African-American slaves in his lifetime – to him, more “property” than human beings. 

Ronald Reagan brought this hypocrisy into the 20th century when he called the Nicaraguan Contras – a vile CIA-funded fightback against the leftist Sandinista movement – the “moral equivalent to our Founding Fathers.” Here Reagan was demonstrating Jeffersonian doublespeak, appropriating the Fathers’ dubious memory to suit U.S. political and economic interests in the region. 

This expedient exceptionalism has its roots in “Manifest Destiny” – the genocidal project by which American leaders, landowners, and citizens justified the murder and displacement of millions of Native Americans. Then the same words “liberty” and “progress” were used. 

From the 20th century to the present, buoyed by the Monroe and Truman Doctrines, supporters of exceptionalism claim America is liberating the world, one step at a time. It does not always get it right of course, as in Iraq, but its cause is essentially a noble one. 

Silly America! This argument portrays America as victimized and temporarily flawed. But deep down, Uncle Sam is a good guy. 

But what does Iraq actually tell us about exceptionalism? According to some reports United Nations sanctions killed one million civilians, 500,000 of them children, while Western jets bombed civilian targets. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she thought the price of all this was “worth it.” 

The story of American exceptionalism, like its implementation in Iraq, is one devoid of actual humanitarianism, democracy, or progress. More important is the spread of American influence, arms sales, hegemonic control, and the construction of a hyper-capitalist regime network in debt, shock, and awe of dear old Uncle Sam.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons