It is almost a relief to see what is generally described as “American Exceptionalism”, or “The Indispensable Nation”, or “The shining city upon a Hill”, is being discussed openly.
Let’s take a look at where these descriptions come from:
The actual phrase “American Exceptionalism” was originally coined by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as a critique of a revisionist faction of American Communists who argued that the American political climate was unique, making it an ‘exception’ to certain elements of Marxist theory.
“We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further.” —Madeleine Albright (if you really need a link for this, you also need a broader education in recent history. If you do not know the context of this, I suggest you go and do a few searches and you may understand why this was an aberration).
A Shining City Upon a Hill – John Winthrop – who was not in the least interested in democracy and said: “A democracy is, among civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government. [To allow it would be] a manifest breach of the 5th Commandment.”
In the broader discussion in the commons the question is being asked: “Is Donald Trump’s “America First” policy in contradiction to the Washington Consensus idea of American Exceptionalism?” This was recently discussed on Crosstalk. The one panelist David Swanson caught my attention with his clear and unambiguous approach. He says he looks at what Donald Trump does in terms of foreign policy and the tentacles of exceptionalism and finds the reality as follows:
- dropping more bombs
- building more bases
- getting more military spending out of congress
- demanding more military spending out of Europe
- giving more weapons to more places including the Ukraine
- Insisting on the US rights to do what it wants to do in places like the Ukraine, Nicaragua and around the world
- Trump is not switching policies allowing other countries to decide on their own fate
- the changes that we see, are all rhetorical and a question of mannerisms and style
Looking at actions rather than rhetoric, David does not see a reduction in the policies of American Exceptionalism or clearly stated, Imperialism. Neither do I see a difference. Take the example of “Nato is obsolete”, but it is quite noticeable how Nato quickly regains relevance if the US can be better paid for it.
Trumps America First and American Exceptionalism is being combined, as a kettle of fish that if allowed to happen, will give us nothing but more pain in our world.
Michael Tracey of Spectator takes a ‘post-exceptionalism’ tack:
When reading from prepared remarks, Trump often does recite the standard bromides about exceptionalism which have become the dreary requirement for any U.S. head of state. But when freewheeling extemporaneously, the “real Trump” tends to emerge, as he did in Helsinki. And for angst-ridden elites, the “real Trump” is an imposter— a nasty imposition on the body politic who must be in hock to a sinister foreign tyrant. That to them is the only explanation which makes sense. Because otherwise, his very presence on the world stage suggests that the American project is not as exceptional as they’ve been led to believe.
From Politico we find:
It’s unusual that the Republican Party’s most recent standard-bearer, President Donald Trump, has disavowed the very idea of “American exceptionalism.” “I don’t think it’s a very nice term,” he said. “I think you’re insulting the world.” But that doesn’t mean that Trump has chucked this dearly held principle. When most conservative politicians invoke the term “exceptionalism” they use it as shorthand for raw national chauvinism—the assertion that the United States is not just different, but better. Trump has replaced it, at least temporarily, with an angrier tag line that conveys the same sense of national power and entitlement—America First, itself a term ripped from history and freighted with dark meaning. When America is first, it owes little to everyone else. It’s a more Trumpian way of saying what other politicians often mean.
Behind his pay wall Dmitry Orlov penned a bitter poem.
“I will leave you with some Vogon Poetry of my own. Almost a decade ago, at the end of 2009, I wrote up some predictions for the next decade. One of my predictions, and one by which I still stand, was that the Americans, unable to moderate their appetites in the face of radically altered circumstances, will
consume themselves into oblivion
as so many disemboweled yet still ravenous sharks
endlessly gorging themselves
on their own billowing entrails.”
Back to a more positive approach. David Swanson helps to unravel the ‘new speech’ around peace in a time when warmaking is still the de facto daily ‘soup de jour’ that one finds if you subtract rhetoric from action. I would recommend listening to these 2 videos:
For those that understand that the warmaking is being wrapped in rhetoric, a piece from our own forums: Word Washing and Sneaky Tricks