Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reflecting on "American exceptionalism"

EDITORIAL NOTE: I will be traveling extensively over the next two weeks.  I hope to be doing ESE on the Road posts, but my rate of postings may be spotty.

"Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you're being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating, and that's the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn't want to pay their taxes."

That is of course a quote from the comedy, Dazed and Confused.

It references the bicentennial of 1976 but it's a quote worth reviewing every year at this time.  I like to keep it in mind as people around me estivate into midsummer and honor the sacrifices of our Founding Fathers by setting off explosives, destroying property, and scaring pets and war veterans.

Don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against Fourth of July parties.  I like parties.  And before anyone tells me to "go back to [insert Russia, Iran, or any other undesirable nation]," I consider the United States to be a country worthy of celebration.  I have seen firsthand the poverty of the third world and I know I am incredibly lucky to be an American.  By the sheer grace of whatever, I was born in a place where I was afforded more blessings and more opportunities than the vast majority of the world's population.  The pure fact that I can write these words or any words without fear of governmental persecution is a testament to but one of America's many triumphs.  Things become problematic, however, when that is all we see.

I'll put it to you this way.  There are a lot of things I don't like about myself.  I'm unorganized, I'm gloomy, and I've really come to notice lately that I'm just not a risk taker.  It's cost me plenty.  By knowing these things about myself, I can begin working on them and to (hopefully) overcome them.

I love each member of my family and my close friends.  As with any human beings, however, there are things about them I'm not too keen on.  My father tends to live in his own world.  My mother has a caustic and reactionary view of the world.  And don't even get me started on Dorkland.  Understanding all of these traits makes it easier for me to problem solve and deal with each one of them.  I by no means love them any less.

Same goes for the good ol' United States of America.  The specious notion of "American exceptionalism," that somehow the U.S. is qualitatively superior to other nations of the world via "divine mandate" or some such, blinds us.  It becomes too easy to forget that:

-The blood and sweat of slaves once soaked this land.

-Even after slavery ended, African Americans faced lynchings from the Ku Klux Klan, the injustice of Jim Crow laws, and drug policies rooted in racism.

-The indigenous people of North America were slaughtered, uprooted, and marginalized.

-Over 100,000 people of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps during World War II for no reason other than their ethnicity.  About 62% of these people were American citizens.

-Innocent people were persecuted and unjustly harassed or worse during the era of McCarthyism.

That's all in the past, you say?  True.  Then let's look at today:

-Buses full of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of them children, were blocked by hundreds of angry protesters who waved American flags and chanted "USA."

-Homosexuals are denied equal rights in the name of "religious freedom" at the cost of our own economy.

-Christian churches protest at funerals, claiming the deaths are strikes against said homosexuals.

-Upon becoming the first African American elected president, Barack Obama faced numerous racial slurs from his own citizens.  He still does.

-His opposing party in Congress will do anything to blockade his initiatives, even to the detriment of the nation itself.

And my favorite...

-The United States accounts for 5% of the world's total population but consumes 24% of its energy and resources.

It is difficult if not impossible to deal with a problem until it is acknowledged.  This idea of "American exceptionalism," where any honest criticism of America is seen as a form of slander or as being borderline treasonous is counterproductive.  We are a great nation and have been fortunate in our blessings.  We have had many triumphs, not the least of which is putting humans on the Moon and the fact that whenever there is a natural catastrophe in the world, America is one of the first nations there to render aid to the stricken.

We can do great things.  That's why I believe we can solve these problems if we are willing to be honest and face them head-on.

For the weekend though, go have a hot dog on me.

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