The concept has been prevalent across the mediasphere following President Obama’s recent speech justifying military action in Libya, in which Mr. Obama’s acceptance of a kind of American Exceptionalism was made abundantly clear. It’s a worldview I’ve taken issue with for more than one reason, but perhaps the most personal is my conflation of the idea with my criticism of faith.
Blind allegiance/adherence to a country seems as ludicrous as blind allegiance to a sports team. Indeed, in some ways celebrating and reveling in a sports team makes more sense: it is simple to compare how terrible the Niners have been to how good the loathed (in my head, I pronounce that “loathéd.” Just seems classier) Patriots have been. Those kinds of comparisons seem much harder for an individual to make when it comes to countries. Sure, it’s simple to compare the state of individual freedom and self-determinacy in China and the United States on a basic level, but any really meaningful comparison would require the kind of observation that only comes from having actually lived, in equivalent social contexts, in both countries. How many people with “USA #1” bumper stickers can truly claim to have those kinds of experiences?
It strikes me that the belief in American Exceptionalism is an equally uneducated belief, and I actually refuse to believe that any man (or woman, eventually) who is intelligent and educated enough to make it to the desk in the Oval Office truly believes it. If you have the kind of information a President would have access to, I can only imagine a belief in the “divine right,” so to speak, of American privilege would be shaken to its core. Just look at all the ways in which we have violated some of our supposedly “founding principles” in the past decade alone: are we really meant to believe this is only a recent phenomenon? Barack Obama’s justification for going to war in Libya was refreshing for its honesty: John Winthrop’s vision of a “city on a hill” has not truly been the motivation for US (or US states/cities/counties/whatever) domestic and international policy since the moment he finished speaking. Our interventions are always predicated on much more practical and cynical considerations.
The belief therefore that American is an Exceptional Entity, in my estimation, is as much a product of American’s adherence to the crutch that is faith. I believe the vast majority of Americans who are disproportionately proud of their country in all its successes and failures, victories and transgressions and faults do so not out of any real comparative experience or knowledge, but out of faith. Faith that it is thus, faith that it has always been, and faith that it always will be (though that the future is inevitably fragile unless we return to the values of earlier generations RIGHT NOW has been a crutch of American politics since the Articles of Confederation were signed). America is a country built on faith and blind certainty, and to hear President Obama use it in such a manner (let alone believe it himself) is worrisome to me. Are we any different in our faith that our way is RIGHT than the Zionist settlers of Israel are in their faith of a divine right to Jersusalem? Or the Palestinian faith in their divine right to the exact same territory? Or the jihadist belief in the decadence of Western culture? In matters of faith, there is no difference in the power or intensity of belief and certainty, and there is no persuading a wo/man who is already certain. As long as each of these groups, ourselves included, believe that we are and always will be RIGHT, conflict and war and pain will never cease.