Written by Frank Li
“American exceptionalism” – Have you ever heard of this expression? I first heard of it more than two decades ago. Recently, it has become so problematic that I decided to write about it. To me, it is such a big, past, and troublesome expression that it has clearly contributed to the steep decline of America over the past decade, with the most prominent example being the Iraq War.
1. The definition
According to Wikipedia,
American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is “qualitatively different” from other states. In this view, U.S. exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism“, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.”
Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the biblical shining “City upon a Hill“, and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.
The theory of exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as “exceptional” in 1831 and 1840.The term “American exceptionalism” has been in use since at least the 1920s and saw more common use after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastised members of the Jay Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for their heretical belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions”. American Communists started using the English term “American exceptionalism” in factional fights. It then moved into general use among intellectuals. In 1989 Scottish political scientist Richard Rose noted that most American historians endorse exceptionalism.
2. America is exceptional!
America is exceptional in three aspects, at least (What is America, Anyway?):
1) America was built on a huge geographic area that was not only rich (i.e. basically un-farmed), but also replete with natural resources (e.g. coal and oil). The same thing can be said about America’s two sister countries: Canada and Australia. But neither of them is close to being a beacon like America, largely because America became independent from the British much earlier.
2) America was founded on a framework that proved to be the best in the world throughout America’s first 200 years (1776-1976). With freedom and justice being its core values, America developed its free enterprise system that became, and still is, the envy of the world.
3) Over the past 200 plus years, America has produced more great entrepreneurs than everywhere else on earth, combined! Three examples: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs.
In short, the 20th century was clearly America’s century. America, as “the shining city on a hill,” was a beacon attracting many around the world to come, including me! Yes, I wanted to come to America by any means, at any cost. Luckily, I did. Happily, my American dream has come true!
3. America is not so exceptional!
America is not so exceptional in three instances, at least:
1) Domestically: American democracy is proving to be no better than the democracy practiced by the Romans and Greeks more than 2,000 years ago. As a matter of fact, democracy is failing in America today in the same way as it failed in Rome and Greece more than 2,000 years ago: debts! For more, read: Top 10 American Misconceptions about Democracy.
2) Internationally: America has proven to be no better than other nations in carrying out wars on foreign lands. A war is a war – There is little difference between imperialism (for occupation) and democratic imperialism (for spreading democracy)! Two examples:
- Iraq: America did no better in the 21st century than the British did in the 1920s.
- Afghanistan: America has been doing no better in the 21st century than the British did in the 1850s, or the Soviets did in the 1980s.
3) Internationally and domestically: What happened over there matters here! Three points:
- Wars are bad! There are no real winners in any war! Read: Thomas Young, Dying Iraq War veteran, Pens ‘Last Letter” to Bush, Cheney On War’s 10th Anniversary.
- Killing is bad! You can kill them in your ways over there, but they can kill you in their ways right here. Two examples: Fort Hood shooting and Boston Marathon bombings. For more, read: Senators told drone strikes cause hatred of America.
- Truth matters! Read: Ron Paul on 9/11: Ask the right questions and face the truth.
4. Built to last
The U.S. is not exceptional at all, as compared with China and the U.K., in terms of built to last (Built to Last: Structure and Conscience).
4.1 The U.S. vs. China
America did very well for more than 200 years in her entire history. But that is “nothing” when compared with China, who mostly led the world for the first 1,800 years of its 2,013-year calendar! For more, read: America: What is China, Anyway?
4.2 The U.S. vs. the U.K.
The British Empire thrived for more than three centuries (from 16th to 18th), at least, while America is less than 240 years old.
Throughout human history, great nations have risen and fallen. They rose for one and only one reason: they were exceptional for a period of time. They fell primarily for one reason as well: self-destruction!
The U.S. was exceptional for the first 200 years of its history! However, it has been falling steeply over the past decade, at least, for the same common reason: self-destruction!
Is the U.S. really in a steep decline? Yes! Three examples:
1) High unemployment: Despite the massive government spending over the past five years, the real unemployment rate is still at about 15%! Worse yet, there is no way for it to come down in the foreseeable future, given our projected GDP growth rate at 2% per year. In other words, get used to this new norm!
2) Monumental national debt: Our national date has sky-rocketed from $9T in 2009 to almost $17T today, rising rapidly. Worse yet, nobody knows how we are ever going to pay back this debt!
3) International standing: The recent photo below shows a good example: President Obama was unable to attend APEC 2013 because of the government shutdown at home (U.S. Government Shutdown), sending John Kerry over there, instead. Where is Mr. Kerry standing in the photo? He is “sidelined” on the right corner under the red arrow!
America is deeply in trouble! For more, read my book: “Saving America, Chinese Style.” Meanwhile, shelf this notion of “American exceptionalism,” because today it does America more harm than good!