Barack Obama, 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, on why the US should bomb Syria:
But when would modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.
Vladimir Putin, New York Times, September 11, 2013:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Barack Obama, to the United Nations, September 25, 2013:
Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all.
What do Americans mean when they claim that the United States is exceptional? President Putin warns that belief in one’s own exceptionalism is dangerous. In Obama’s case, he evidently believes that the United States must act because it is morally superior to all the other nations in the world. Indeed, many Americans, not all, act in such away as to suggest that they believe they are superior to the rest of the world. Most Americans persist in believing that the United States is the greatest country in history. Others, such as Rush Limbaugh, would concede that Americans are not better than other people, but that the principles of liberty and freedom is what makes them exceptional:
American exceptionalism has nothing to do with anything but freedom and liberty. … The vast majority of the people of this world since the beginning of time have never known the kind of liberty and freedom that’s taken for granted every day in this country. Most people have lived in abject fear of their leaders. Most people have lived in abject fear of whoever held power over them. Most people in the world have not had plentiful access to food and clean water. It was a major daily undertaking for most people to come up with just those two basic things.
Well, for me living in Canada, I have to say I don’t stand in fear of the prime minister, the premier of Ontario, or even the mayor of Vaughan (do I even know his name?)–except at tax time. I think my water is clean, and last I checked, I’m eating very well. I should proclaim Canadian exceptionalism. Except, when Americans claim their version of exceptionalism, there is not really room to say that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Western European countries, UK, and whatever other countries claims to have a decent standard of living, are all exceptional. Syndrome said,
“When everyone’s super, no one is!”
So I disagree with Limbaugh. The concepts of freedom and rights are older than the United States. The founding principles of the United States depend on a long tradition of rights in the English-speaking world, having its roots in the Magna Carta. Before that, the Romans, who had clean water and food, had a concept of rule of law and the rights of citizens, though its potentates often abused those rights. In some countries today, the government actually respects the rights of their citizens, at least better than does the current United States federal government.
In history, every nation that ever had an empire believed in its own exceptionalism. Take for example the Romans, the English, and the French. But in such cases, the thing that made these empires great was never their moral superiority but their willingness to use their military might and violence to assert their dominance in the world. To be sure, at times it is necessary to use violence to stop violence. But the victors in such cases should remain humble and light-handed in the wielding of power, lest they fall into the trap of thinking that they can do no wrong. On this point, Putin is right.
Yet I have to say Putin is wrong too, but only in the sense that “exceptional” can mean “deviating from the norm: as a: having above or below average intelligence” (Webster’s Collegiate, 11th ed.). Exceptional can also mean exceptionally bad in some or all respects. And here I would like to enumerate a points on which I can easily affirm the concept of American exceptionalism:
- The United States enjoys the highest obesity rate among 28 major nations. This is due in large part because of the government sponsored carbohydrate bubble.
- The United States has killed thousands of people through unmanned drones; the ratio of innocent to terrorists is perhaps 50 to 1.
- The United States is running the biggest budget deficit and borrows over 40 cents for every dollar it spends. It must borrow more money to be able to claim that it is not a banana republic.
- The United States alone enjoys the ability to print or otherwise create the reserve currency of the world and is able to export inflation to the rest of the world, thus taxing the foreign holders of its currency.
- The United States enjoys the largest trade deficit in the world, as its fiat currency is able, for now, to purchase goods from other countries.
- The United States alone has a system of citizenship-based taxation, threatening its expats with extortionate fines for non-compliance with its filing requirements. The Eritrean 2% expat tax requires the filing of a simple form and is in no wise comparable to the United States’ violation of its expats universal human rights. This means that the United States believes that it is best to rob the wealth of other nations in order to try to stop-gap its own budget deficit, and is currently trying to enforce this extortion through FATCA, a law forcing banks around the world to rat out their alleged US clients to the IRS. The United States has become a beggar nation full of worthless bums.
- The majority of the US homelanders, whether labeling themselves left, right or moderate, seem incapable of seeing what the rest of the world can see. This is the state of believing that you still live in the best country in the world, even though by many measures that country has fallen from its pinnacle. Today, depending on who is doing the measuring, several other countries have better standards of living or more freedom.
This last point, I would support with anecdotal evidence. When I have complained that I’ve had to expatriate, many Americans say something like, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” I again had this experience when I claimed at a right-wing website that the United States was not exceptional, since I had to relinquish my US citizenship in order to protect my family from the biggest threat to its well-being, the IRS. The response of one commenter, Debra Blouin was as follows:
I just want to extend my thanks to you. Not for your well-written post, mind you.
I want to thank you for leaving!
Americans, when confronted with the truth of how far their country has fallen, become defensive and rude. This I find to be indeed exceptional.