We’ve Killed the Exceptionalism That Laid Exceptional Eggs

American Exceptionalism

Back When We Really Were Exceptional

Politicians traditionally like to talk about American Exceptionalism … a lot. Why Mittens has chosen not to, especially on this auspicious day, is a mystery. The argument is a common cudgel when candidates would rather not talk about something and this election is full of things not to talk about.

What many of them don’t know is Joseph Stalin coined the phrase, though not as a compliment. That’s right, George the Lesser, Newt Gingrich, St. Ronnie of Reagan, and dozens more used the term to convince Americans they were special. And they have the audacity to call Obama a commie.

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American Exceptionalism is About Agreeing to Disagree

It’s fair to say US politics has gone way past the point of partisan and well into the realm of zealotry. Ideas are often flatly rejected before being proposed. We talk proposals to death, but it never seems to be enough. Votes turn into mini wars of attrition or no-holds barred campaigns with scorched earth policies at their center. And, losers – well, everyone’s a loser, but you know what I mean – launch hissy fits, retribution, repeal, Constitutional amendment, or just flip off the entire nation.


USA, USA, USA! - American exceptionalism comes not from morality, economic power, God nor patriotism. It comes from an ability to respectfully agree to disagree.

And then, when all else fails, the entire Grinchly, toxic package gets topped with a smelly bow of name calling and just plain goofy lies and charges.

If you believe America needs health care, you hate America. If you believe America should have a smaller government, you hate America. If you belive rich people should pay more taxes, you’re a commie. If you believe that Obama is the anti-Christ, he doesn’t just hate America, he morphs into a Kenyan Kommunist who isn’t even legally President. And if you fail to demonize your elected government you’re an evil terrorist.

Complexity Makes Our Heads Hurt
We live in an age of sprawling complexity, certainly too much complexity for any mere mortal to fully understand.  And, we tack on all sorts of contingencies and nit picks, no matter how applicable, to set up certain failure. Then, in true homo sapien fashion we run away from the smoking hole in the ground with all the grace and moral fortitude of a car chase star on America’s Dumbest Criminals.

It’s OK to criticize your government. That is democracy’s essence and your right (although people who don’t vote, but criticize the loudest do sometimes chap my ass). It’s OK to disagree. Sometimes your view carries the day, other times not. That doesn’t mean the victor rolls out of bed each morning rubbing their hands, growing some horns, and singing, “What can I do to fuck up my country today,” to the tune of the Internationale.

People say Americans don’t believe in the concept of American exceptionalism. I’m not sure that’s as true as just ignoring the concept as though it isn’t even there.

America’s exceptionalism has never been its moral stance in the world or its defense of the weak against the oppressive. It was never endowed by anyone’s God nor rabid patriotism. What made America exceptional was our ability to somehow recognize our differences, make decisions, and then move on. Unlike many countries, we were exceptional because we could eventually unify and not devolve into a stinking swamp of eternal misery as every faction except the common citizen spent decades trying to jerk everyone to their side.

Even Morons Get Good Ideas
No matter how big a moron is they’ll occasionally have a good idea. There’s no value arguing against a good idea solely because it came from someone you think is a moron. The value is to recognize the idea for what it is and pat the moron on the back with a word of thanks for actually doing something besides prattling on about how the moron may have denigrated your ideas in the past.

If you criticize an idea with particular vitriol and your opponent reminds you of it, don’t try to defend yourself by saying, “you guys did it first”. And, don’t change the subject by parsing every little nuance in your language. People will see that for what it is…crapweaseltry.

It’s OK to answer a charge that your opinion is one-sided with a reminder that it is an opinion (whether supported by facts or not). You’re not obliged to answer every idea with a corresponding counterbalance – though it’s nice when you can acknowledge it. But, regardless of your opinion of them or their idea, always treat them personally with respect.

Sometimes the best anyone can do is to agree to disagree and let it go at that.

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