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We’re now passing through a no-name election season of a particularly lusterless sort, but don’t count on that for 2016. Here, in fact, is a surefire prediction for that moment, which (given the nature of modern presidential campaigns) will kick off with the usual round of media speculation and odds-making on November 5th. Whoever the presidential candidates may be, expect the political landscape to be littered with references to the United States as an “exceptional nation” and to “American exceptionalism” (as well as its more recent doppelgänger, “indispensable,” as in “indispensable nation”). And the presidential candidates, baying for the exceptional privilege of entering the Oval Office in 2017, will join a jostling crowd of past presidential candidates, presidential wannabes, major politicians, minor figures, and pundits galore who have felt compelled in recent years to tell us and the world just how exceptional we really are.
Such references were once rare in our politics, but that was back in the days when Americans didn’t doubt our exceptional nature, which meant that there was no need to talk about it ad infinitum. Like anything spoken of too insistently, recent rounds of exceptionalist comments surely reveal lurking feelings of doubt about this country, its state, its fate, and its direction (which, according to most polls, Americans believe to be downward, as in “wrong track” or “decline”).
So, as an antidote to the creeping sense that the U.S. — that unipolar power, the last superpower etc., etc. — may not be quite all it’s cracked up to be, here’s the beginning of a little post-9/11 list that you can complete at your leisure: six incontestable areas where America is #1. Once filled out, it should help future candidates for office and leave the rest of us punching the air with a renewed sense of celebratory pride.
We’re #1 in investment in our military and our national security state! No other country comes within a light year of us! In 2011, the defense budgets of the next 13 countries combined didn’t quite equal ours and we’ve been dumping up to a trillion dollars yearly into the national security budget since 9/11. The best news of all: with a new war on our hands and those budgets sure to rise, we’re guaranteed #1 status into the distant future!
We’re #1 in “renditions” (called “kidnappings” when done by the security forces of less noble governments)! Post-9/11, at least 136 “terror suspects” (some certifiably innocent) were taken by the CIA and other American outfits off the streets of global cities and from the backlands of the planet! Who in the world can equal that?
We’re #1 in knocking off wedding parties from the air! At least eight of them in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen) in a little more than a decade! Bridal parties, brides and grooms, hundreds of wedding goers obliterated by American air power! You tell me: What other country could brag of such a feat?
We’re #1 in military bases on foreign soil! We have hundreds of them across the planet, some the size of small American towns. There’s never been anything like it, not from the Romans, nor the British at their imperial heights, and no other country today has more than a handful. When it comes to bases, we’ve got history by the throat!
We’re number #1 in invading, occupying, and/or bombing Muslim countries, 14 of them since 1980! I challenge you, find me another country with such an accomplishment — and for the record, it’s never been a “crusade,” just what needed to be done to keep order on our planet!
We’re number #1 in investing in militaries that won’t “stand up”! At least $25 billion for the Iraqi military alone (and you know how successful we were there, since it recently collapsed, allowing us to rearm it and stand it up again). And that’s nothing compared to the Afghan military into which our country had poured $51 billion by 2011 and billions more thereafter — and don’t tell me that wasn’t a success, since that force’s desertion rate has long hovered at or near 25% annually! High fives all around!
American exceptionalism? Honestly, who could deny it — other than TomDispatch regular David Bromwich, author most recently of Moral Imagination, who explores the special immorality of imagining yourself as the most exceptional of lands. Tom
The Importance of Being Exceptional
From Ancient Greece to Twenty-First-Century America
By David Bromwich
The origins of the phrase “American exceptionalism” are not especially obscure. The French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, observing this country in the 1830s, said that Americans seemed exceptional in valuing practical attainments almost to the exclusion of the arts and sciences. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on hearing a report by the American Communist Party that workers in the United States in 1929 were not ready for revolution, denounced “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” In 1996, the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took those hints from Tocqueville and Stalin and added some of his own to produce his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. The virtues of American society, for Lipset — our individualism, hostility to state action, and propensity for ad hoc problem-solving — themselves stood in the way of a lasting and prudent consensus in the conduct of American politics.