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American Exceptionalism


In the 2008 election, more than any other in my experience, I was not uncommitted, but I was also not uncertain of my choice.

While I consider myself to be a Democratic Socialist, in the European tradition (which would put a decided spin on the Wikipedia entry on that topic), let me offer another entry from Wikipedia–the definition of American Exceptionalism–which I found far more frightening than the economic prospect of an Obama win in that November:

American exceptionalism refers to the belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its national credo, historical evolution, or distinctive political and religious institutions.

Certain persons view American exceptionalism as a product of veiled nationalistic chauvinism, or even jingoism. The term can also be used in a negative sense by critics of American policies to refer to a willful nationalistic ignorance of faults committed by the American government.

Dorothy Ross, in Origins of American Social Science (1991), argued that there are three generic varieties of American exceptionalism:

1. supernaturalist explanations which emphasize the causal potency of God in selecting America as a ‘city on a hill’ to serve as an example for the rest of the world,
2. genetic interpretations which emphasize racial traits, ethnicity, or gender, and
3. environmental explanations such as geography, climate, availability of natural resources, social structure, and type of political economy.

By all means, take a look at the full Wikipedia entry. The aspects that seem to apply here, especially to the Republican view of America’s role in the World, are the first and second of Dorothy Ross’s points.

As a secular humanist, I fear the religious motivations of candidates like McCain (who may, in fact, be a chameleon, taking on the coloration of his right-wing base) or of Sarah Palin, a self-described born-again Christian and committed member of the Assemblies of God denomination, who welcome Armageddon as a necessary step in the Second Coming. Our economic policies are the product of a complex executive-legislative partnership (severely weakened in the two Bush administrations, in my assessment), where a pure Socialist agenda is unlikely to survive. But presidents can and have made unilateral choices with far-reaching and possibly irreversible consequences. George Bush’s personal faith and the supporting views of the cast of ideologues surrounding him–who would likely have carried over into a McCain-Palin administration–suggest the continuity of that lunatic view. I am genuinely frightened by this and wonder if we will ever be able to undo the damage that our purported Divinely Ordained place in the world has wrought.

Dorothy Ross’s second point–the genetic/ethnic perspective–applies directly to Obama’s mixed racial ancestry. Frankly, many White Christians feared an Obama presidency as an unacceptable deviation from the conservative evangelical/pentecostal take on a biblically-based leadership role for White males. White males ( of which I am one) are, after all, the head of the household, and the wife and children are subservient rather than equal partners in the family.

Obama’s hubris? I’ll take it any day over the wafting waffling inconsistency of a John McCain whose handlers clearly represented the darker side of American culture. And Sarah Palin? She is both dangerous and incompetent to govern if McCain had been unable to complete his term of office. If John McCain ever wanted my vote, Sarah Palin was not the way to get it.

At my age (66) I am unlikely to outlive the economic collapse brought on by the palpable hubris of free-range Capitalists, who have decimated my retirement and, I suspect, eliminated the reasonably comfortable senior years of millions of Americans and countless numbers around the world.

I do not vote for candidates who believe as I do. I vote for candidates who can govern.

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