Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Change We Need: Reflections upon Obama

The election of Obama is a good thing for many reasons. On average and compared with the alternative, I think it reduces the chance of new wars (though there will still be wars); it increases the chance of an international agreement on a response to climate change (though such a response will still probably be too little, too late); it helps to undermine racial stereotypes and mistrust (though violence and prejudice will survive); it is a little less likely to lead towards unbridled consumerism (but don't hold your breath); it is less likely to continue to undermine civil liberties and the rule of law (though Obama did vote to extend the Patriot act); it will almost certainly improve the quality of metaphors in political discourse ("war on terror"?); it may well improve access to healthcare for some of America's poor (though it will not erase poverty); and could even make this foreign nation a little less alien to some of the rest of the world (though one election doesn't undo the myriad sins of empire, even if Kenya has declared a national holiday).

But the speeches and discussion also left me worried. Not so much at the extreme partisanship of some commentators, who were unable to be gracious in victory or defeat. Not even so much at the Obamamania that thinks the election of one man has banished the politics of fear and ushered in a new era of honesty. After all, emotional attachment to political representatives is generally a good thing and this moment is a moving one for many people.

No, my anxiety is less that people might think Obama is the messiah (we will be surely disabused of that notion quickly enough) and more that Americans think their nation is messianic. American exceptionalism is alive and well. It was referenced repeatedly by both candidates in their speeches (full texts: McCain and Obama) and was an assumption deeply ingrained in most of the American commentators I saw interviewed last night (remaining politely unchallenged by the BBC coverage, apart from one or two significant pauses at (in)appropriate moments).

From its foundation, the United States has believed itself to be a unique nation, with a God-given role to be a light on a hill. This belief is the most ironic - yet also most frequent - theological error in a country obsessed with a "separation" between church and state: the confusion of the two.

Governments do indeed have a genuine role to play in God's plan, but the exaltation of Christ ("All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" - Matthew 28.18) has revealed this role to be temporary and passing. At the end, when Christ will hand the kingdom to the Father, he will have "destroyed every ruler and every authority and power." (1 Corinthians 15.24) But what of now? Christ has been granted all authority but hasn't yet destroyed all competing authorities. Where are states left after the exaltation of Christ and before the final consummation? They do indeed still hold authority from God (Romans 13.1-7), but of a limited and strictly provisional kind. Crucially, this authority is not redemptive, but focused on, and limited to, the prosecution of justice: punishing the wrongdoer and commending those who do right. Governments are not the messiah, they simply restrain the very naughty boys (and girls). American political aspirations have often gone well beyond this mandate, hoping to "heal this nation" and "repair this world", in the words of another Obama speech.
For this argument in full, see O'Donovan's The Desire of the Nations.

But increasingly, it seems, US political rhetoric has become less about having a divinely-appointed role as it is a self-made one. God's gift or summons of the American people to a manifest destiny (confusing America with biblical Israel) has turned into a works gospel of an international pre-eminence earned through hard-work and self-belief. "We are the ones we have been waiting for." America is exceptional because it is the most fervent in believing itself to be so; it is the self-made nation that has pulled itself up by its bootstraps, conquering the world through will-power.

To illustrate these claims, let us turn briefly to the two speeches last night. The graciousness and eloquence of both candidates was evident in their respective speeches. Throughout the campaign, it had become clear that neither were going to be as rich a source for comic gaffes as Bush, but both speeches were highlights of public discourse. Yet both included strident claims to American exceptionalism.

McCain (emphasis added):

"And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."
The greatness of America consists in its escape from historical necessity through sheer willpower.

Obama: (emphasis added)
"[Tonight's election result] is the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day."
Once more history is to be grasped and manipulated and determined by those who are self-determined, who believe it to be possible to do so.

Here is the key section from a little later in Obama's oration:
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

"For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."
This was finally an acknowledgement (so rare in this campaign) that America is not the extent of the world and finally a hint that more people were watching this election (and are likely to be affected by its outcome) outside the States than inside them. Even the claim to leadership need not itself be problematic, as long as the manner of leadership is moral, through ideals - that is, through persuasion and example, rather than merely military might or brute wealth.

However, it is the content of these ideals that forms the basis of a contemporary destructive idolatry. According to Obama, the genius of America is its transcendence of the past and the perfectibility of its union. Notice first how clever politically this is, to identify the genius of the nation with a progressivist mindset. Notice also the irony of this claim to many non-American ears, who usually see the American political spectrum balanced further to the conservative end of scale than elsewhere.

But it is this latter phrase, the perfectibility of the union, that really demands further reflection. The whole second paragraph here ("For that is the true genius of America [...] must achieve tomorrow") is taken word for word from his rightly famous speech on 18th March 2008, titled "A More Perfect Union", in which he directly addressed race relations for the first time in his campaign (and which will be studied for years to come as a model of effective communication. If you've never heard or read it, do so. You won't regret it). Yet, apart from this one paragraph which he re-used last night, that earlier speech was careful to speak of the political improvability of society but not of its perfectibility. I have written previously about the dangers of conceiving change in this way and of the necessity of liberating politics from the burden of perfection. But Obama offered no concessions: "what we can and must achieve tomorrow". While he mentioned the long-term nature of this project, he laid the full burden of this perfection upon his audience:
"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."
The expectation and demand for moral (or social) perfection outside of God's gracious calling, Christ's atoning sacrifice and the Spirit's indwelling is destructively impossible. Yet Obama offered this possibility based on little more than grit and determination: "So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other." Or rather, he offered it on the basis of a messianic promise: the promise of a nation where grit and determination, willpower and a belief that America is different can overcome all obstacles.

America is the leader of the world because it is special. It is special because of its ideals. Its ideals include the idea that America is perfectible. It is perfectible through willpower. Thus, America believes itself to be the desire of the nations largely because it desires this very fact to be true with such zeal. It is a self-made messiah with a mission to perfect itself, thus demonstrating to the world its own perfectibility.

Yet this account leaves no room for historical contingency or divine providence. Indeed America has become supposedly great through the denial of contingent limitations, the overcoming of nature through the unfettered human will. There is no acknowledgement of other factors that have contributed to America's global pre-eminence. America is great because it wants to be great, not because land was forcefully taken from an indigenous population decimated by European disease, not because of aggressive wars of expansion, not because the land thus claimed and united by a single European power was rich in natural resources, not because of the discovery and exploitation of oil, and not because of a thousand other factors. Of course, these alone do not explain American history, but neither does sheer willpower. And the danger of an account that only admits the latter is that when, inevitably, there are tectonic shifts in world power (through, for example, the eclipse of oil as a primary means of cheap and abundant energy, whether this occurs in five years or fifty years), there is no room in this self-understanding for America to be anything other than first. The danger of a messianic America based on a narrative of willpower is that if and when America's rule is threatened, it will never cede power graciously. It will blame first itself (those amongst it who oppose the changes "necessary" to keep the country great) and then those who stand in its way, with a zeal that is all the more blind for being so self-referential.

Obama, like so many of America's great orators, is deeply grounded in biblical imagery and language. His words will continue to inspire millions, even as the nation he will soon lead faces a bewildering array of urgent and protracted problems. Yet by perpetuating the myth of American exceptionalism, he continues a tradition that itself stands in urgent need of change.

41 comments:

Justin said...

You ought to submit this to the Herald, Byron, as an opinion piece.

Megan said...

And yet (and I'm really just thinking aloud here as I spoon weetbix in my son's mouth) isn't there something God-given or God-seeking in the imperative of perfection - even when it is disconnected from God? And if we stop demanding perfection (no matter how impossible humanly) have we shown a contentedness in the limitations of a world without God that is more concerning?

Moffitt the Prophet said...

And if the Herald won't take it, some other Christian rag should. It's a great piece Byron.

Once again, modernity (progress through sheer will power and believing in progress) reared it's head again last night: Can we do it 'Yes we can!'

sair said...

But every time that line just makes me think of Bob the Builder...

byron smith said...

Justin, Matt (or anyone) - any idea how to do that? Email address?

Megan - Yes, there is. But I would express that through the idea of improvability, things can always be made better, rather than perfectability. True hope does indeed make us restless and discontent with reality as it is in light of what it will be (and to lose sight of this in a self-satisfied complacency is the opposite poison), but it is the hubris of claiming that our will-power alone can and will take us there that I found disturbing.

Sair - exactly.

Megan said...

Moltmann - yes he really resonates with me when he speaks of hope. Yes, indeed, no perfection until the kingdom comes. But while I do not expect perfection, I think I want to aim for perfection. For instance, do I want to reduce child death from hunger, or eradicate it? I'm not really at odds with you about this, but would take a slightly different tack I think. Perhaps I am currently more sensitised to cynical pragmatism over hubris, though it feels like the mood of the world is changing. But the word improvability just doesn't thrill me....But I do agree with the other comments here- good article Byron,worth a wider audience.

Christian said...

Thank you Byron - really helpful.

Random thought: Do you think there's a parallel between politics and economics here: America has a constitution and perceived national values which seem to offer dynamic ways forward through turbulent times and, when consistently applied, to offer the key to political perfection without recourse to external assistance. Similarly, free market economics starts with the principles of supply and demand, and claims that these 'values' provide a dynamic, self-regulating system which despite shocks and strains eventually cause the market to tend towards equilibrium.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Don't you have contacts at CASE, having taught there?

briefing@matthiasmedia.com.au

editor@smh.com.au?

heckler@smh.com.au

info@zadok.org.au

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/help/contactus.html

byron smith said...

Ah, here is the actual page for SMH submissions: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/10/21/1224351236663.html.

Hmmm, looks like I'm about 2.5 times over the word limit...

One of Freedom said...

Byron. I'm going to forward a link to my buddy at Christian Week. But these are really important thoughts. I too feel a great deal of angst over manifest destiny and the American dream. As a close neighbour to the United States I see my kids (and parishioners) constantly bombarded with the lie that sheer force of will can make anything happen. I've come to think of it as a sickness in our society. But what a comfortable lie.

I hope that Obama will do a good job. I think if he surrounds himself with good people he will (that has been one of the big problems with Bush). But definitely huge challenges are ahead.

Sam Norton said...

Excellent. I would say more, but I'm working on my own piece ;-)

byron smith said...

I started to do more work on this for SMH, but when I realised that they are looking for max 800 words, I gave up since this is just short of 2,000. I don't have the time at the moment to make those kinds of adjustments.

Frank - it's indeed very pervasive once you start to notice it (it = "you can do anything if you want it enough").

Sam - looking forward to seeing yours (a.k.a. the start of the Palin 2012 campaign?). ;-)

andrewE said...

Thanks Byron. Fantastic post.

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Jason Goroncy said...

Great post Byron. Read it over lunch and it made my very boring cup of soup and toast so much more enjoyable.

Anthony Douglas said...

Just a wry observation you might like: when I heard the Obama speech being delivered, my first thought was 'did he just say the ark of history??!'

The American National Myth was one of Jude's favourite areas of study at uni. I think it's probably the most obvious, pertinent example of the consequences of misreading a Christian position on the OT that's available today - so much so that when I did my series ("my" ;-) on eschatology earlier this year, I interviewed Jude about it after preaching on 1 Peter 2:9-12 (and Hebrews 10:1-10, though it's the first verse that sings).

Interesting times ahead.

ericdarylmeyer said...

I'll just echo the others and thank you for a great piece. I really do hope it finds a wider audience!

Anonymous said...

I find it disheartening and deeply offensive to have what should be the Church attacking so generally the ideals that many of us Christians in America struggle against too. It's pretty ignorant to sweep every soul up in what the tv tells you we Americans are. Whose culture, by the way, the rest of the world seems obsessed with. (that actually feeds the problem more than anything)
Obama is not my leader, Christ is. And Christ has placed him in a position of authority so I will submit appropriately to that authority out of obedience to Christ. But he does not speak for me as an American or as a Christian. (nor does any political leader, which is the same for most Christians I know... do you know we even exist? Do you write about us? Do you pray for us?) So proving points about us as a people by quoting him and any other source that reached you via public media is shortsighted and harmful.
From your perspective it's pretty easy to have these observations. But in all of this criticism of America as a whole, I am left wondering what your intent is. Christ called us to be one Body, so who is this rebuke (and the resounding applause) targeting? How could it be used to heal the Body with so much superior attack on superiority? (ironic that you obviously seem to believe you have humility figured out as long as you weren't born in a nation rooted in superiority)
To anyone outside of the mob of pointing fingers and log filled eyes, it comes across as collective self-injury (if we are to believe we are members of one Body) and is pretty painful to the wounded limb.
I have never left a comment anonymously before, but it seems appropriate here because this was such a general attack on a faceless chiche with no regard to the damage it could do to the Body.
ouch.

Lillypure said...

Byron, I just stumbled upon your blog. Wow! Well said. The United States is a nation paid for with violence but founded on Godly principals. Striving for excellence is one thing however perfection is only found in Christ.
We have been a light to the world, coming to the aid of really anyone who asks, accepting all who come to us, even many times to our detriment.
Hope or hopeless with Obama we have no choice now but to stand behind him and support him in prayer. Are his shoulders strong enough to bear this burden?

byron smith said...

Anonymous - I am saddened that you were disheartened by this post. If you too are fighting against this idolatry, then we are indeed working together.

My post was (or was intended to be) about "US political rhetoric", "American political aspirations", the assumptions of the candidates and (much of) the media. Most of the times where I referred generally to "America", I was summarising the place of "America" in this discourse of exceptionalism, not attempting to say what all Americans believe. I was, in fact, attacking the simplistic ascription made by this discourse of a single cause of US influence and power. Forgive me if this came across as an attack on you. It most certainly was not an attack on the body of Christ, precisely because America is not the church.

Whose culture, by the way, the rest of the world seems obsessed with. (that actually feeds the problem more than anything)
Are you surprised that the rest of the world has an opinion of what goes on in American politics? American foreign policy is very close to home for much of the world. We all have a stake in what goes on in Washington because it greatly affects so many of those beyond the shining seas.

Obama is not my leader, Christ is. And Christ has placed him in a position of authority so I will submit appropriately to that authority out of obedience to Christ. But he does not speak for me as an American or as a Christian.
It seems to me that as of January 20, Obama will indeed be one of your leaders (unless you plan on switching nationalities), speaking on your behalf (not as a Christian, but as an American). You may not agree with (some?) of what he says or does, but he still represents you. This is one of the tragedies of politics. That said, you may find that one day you can even praise God for some of the things Obama does. I do not think he will be a terrible president, and I am not alone in this. There are some good reasons why his election was met with so much celebration around the world, and they have a lot to do with the direction America's political actions (esp foreign policy) have taken over the last eight years.

do you know we even exist? Do you write about us? Do you pray for us?
Almost daily. I am married to an American and have many American in-laws and friends. Many of my readers are Americans (or live in the US) and I have received many blessings from them. If I had no love for America, I would not bother to criticise these features of your political discourse.

I have never left a comment anonymously before, but it seems appropriate here because this was such a general attack on a faceless chiche with no regard to the damage it could do to the Body.
ouch.

Thank you for sharing your reaction and I am sorry that you felt the need to remain anonymous. If you would like to continue this conversation you are most welcome to keep posting here, or you can email me directly (my address is here).

byron smith said...

Anthony - did Jude write any pieces on it that she feels happy to share with me? I'd love to read some.

byron smith said...

Lillypure: Thanks for your comment.
We have been a light to the world, coming to the aid of really anyone who asks, accepting all who come to us, even many times to our detriment.
America as a nation has indeed does much that is good in the world, however, it is actually this self-understanding in which you see your nation as a "light to the world" that I was trying to question in my post. I do not think that the claims you make about America's universal beneficence are true historically or today, though this is not to deny the many, many good works that have originated in the US. My concern is when American political discourse constructs American self-identity as a redeemer nation. I think this is damaging both to the US and to the rest of the world. There is one redeemer, Christ Jesus. Other human agents (including political institutions) can do good and can work on behalf of God, but none have a monopoly on this, nor a guarantee. Even when I am trying to serve God, I might (and probably will) also cause harm.

Name[d] said...

I guess you touched a nerve here with some. I failed to weigh in days ago because I had nothing further to add. I thought your post was well written and right on for the most part, but to be honest it is a common conversation that seminary students are having here in America, at least in the schools i have attended (Mid America Christian University, Fuller Theological Seminary, St Paul's School of Theology) which range from conservative, to moderate to liberal. So your thoughts while well put are common here although not among the majority but i sense a shift is taking place. But lets be honest , if Obama had undermined the notion that America was somehow subordinate to God as opposed to Godlike then chances are he would not have been elected because to many (too many!) that sounds unpatriotic. Sometimes in politics you simply have to say things to get elected, perhaps for the greater good.

remylow said...

good post.

my wife and i both felt more and more uncomfortable with the religious overtones of both the McCain and Obama speeches. some hectic civil religion + manifest destiny on display!

The speeches, especially Obama's, seemed to have strong theological overtones about America as Salvation into opportunity, wealth and freedom. And if this is the salvific message, and America is its supreme bearer, then why shouldn't this be dished out around the world by force if necessary? (here the spectres of Bush haunt Obama's speech)

This is probably a good time to remember, even for us West Wing + Matt Santos fans, the wisdom of Stan 'the Bricklayer' Hauerwas:

"for the Christian, the church is always the primary polity through which we gain the experience to negotiate and make positive contributions to whatever society in which we may find ourselves."

I'm a believer in nonviolence, but i can't resist imagining Hauerwas in a brutal fist-fight with Joe the Plumber... profanities and all.


thanks for the post again! i'm glad i wasn't the only party-pooper.

Anonymous said...

You should stick to commenting on what you are good at - I take it theology? As an American, I think what you wrote was a rambling of your own religious rhetoric. America was founded on freedom from the delusions of religion. We don't need the government dictating what kind of religion we need to be following. Thank your God that Sarah Palin did not win. She does NOT represent "America" in the same way Bush doesn't. Good luck, but theologians have no place in political commentary. The two do not mix, my friend.

byron smith said...

Anonymous #2 (I assume you are not the first anon): Thanks for your comment, however, if you had read my post more carefully, you might have noticed that I am indeed glad that Palin is not VP and, more importantly, that I was actually agreeing with you (up to a point) about a certain kind of confusion between politics and religion. Thus, I was still writing as a theologian in this post, since I was primarily concerned with bad theology (leading to bad politics. Not to mention bad politics leading to bad theology).

However, when you say America was founded on freedom from the delusions of religion, I am more than a little confused. The founders were never aiming at freedom from religion, but freedom of religion, which is quite different.

Name(d) - I'm glad to hear these points are being discussed in US seminaries. Hopefully, such attitudes will make it through to a wide range of churches before long as well.

Remylow - As I just said, bad theology leads to bad politics. Change doesn't come through switching one set of politicians for another, but from change in the wind (to which end this post was intended to contribute its tiny piece).

Anonymous said...

Freedom of religion means freedom from religion to many agnostic liberals in America. IMHO Jesus was a liberal and a socialist. No racist, homophobic conservative American Republican could ever be truly considered a "Christian." Hello? Jesus called. He wants his religion back.

Anonymous said...

How can he be both a liberal and a socialist? They are two very different things. So Jesus is a Democrat? Sorry, that Jesus is too small.

byron smith said...

I'm getting a little confused about which anonymous is which. If you'd rather not share your identity (usually a bad move, though understandable in certain circumstances. NB Being critical of a post is usually not sufficient. Stand up and own your criticisms), at least pick a handle so that the thread is easier to follow.

@the most recent anon - So Jesus is a Democrat? Who are you suggesting has implied this?

Drew said...

Byron, you might be interested in Simon Schama's latest book which, I noticed, is on the history of American exceptionalism.

link

Anonymous Thinker said...

Ok so I am the anonymous who said that Jesus was a socialist. Now I must take that back. I feel Jesus was a-political. However, I would like to share a post I read that proclaimed Jesus was a socialist. (BTW I never implied Jesus was a Democrat.) Being a liberal and a democrat are not necessarily interchangable. I do take issue with American evangelicals though, who have hijacked the Christian religion and spread lies about who he really is. Perhaps they don't even know! There is a folk song written by American Cindy Lee Berryhill. It's called "When Did Jesus Become a Republican." The lyrics are insightful. My favorite line is: "When did Jesus become a politician and whisper to the preacher man to tell the congregation exactly who to vote for in the next election?"


10 Reasons Jesus was a Socialist

1. Jesus owned nothing.

2. Jesus argued for the dissolution of the family and the establishment of communes.

3. Jesus loved all people regardless of ethnicity or class.

4. Jesus revolted against the imperial government, established religion and finance capitalism (usury).

5. Jesus taught that we should act as one body, one blood.

6. Jesus taught that his kingdom (i.e. nation state) is in the heart and not below the feet.

7. Jesus taught that we should fight for Justice and 'turn the other cheek' to petty morality.

8. Jesus was a laborer and a teacher.

9. Jesus practiced healing and forgiveness.

10. Jesus taught that you can't be an imperialist and a disciple at the same time.

By Ned Lawrence

byron smith said...

Drew - thanks for the tip. Do you know what the relation between his book and the TV series he's recently put together called "The American Future: A History" is? It is also about US exceptionalism.

byron smith said...

Anonymous thinker: Thanks for clarifying. I agree that Jesus is not easily claimed by any political party and that it is dangerous and short-sighted to simply identify him with your favourite political agenda. However, this doesn't make him a-political. His message and mission of the "Kingdom of God" was not of a non-political inner transformation with little or nothing to say to human society (this is a misunderstanding made popular in the 19thC, though with roots earlier than that). The preaching of the good news has all kinds of political and social implications, though they are far more interesting than "vote for x party" (which is only a small fraction of politics in any case).

As for Jesus and socialism, I suspect that the parallels run the other way. Socialism has (many of) its roots in Jesus' teaching and practice, yet has misconstrued him. One way of putting this is that socialism is a Christian heresy.

byron smith said...

Drew - oops. It was obvious that I hadn't yet followed your link when I wrote that first comment, since I didn't realise that the book has the same name as the TV series. I guess they are probably related...

byron smith said...

Brad offers some interesting reflections upon Obama with the benefit of a little more hindsight.

byron smith said...

CD: The Fall of the United States. "A country that is trying to hold onto its belief in its own “exceptionalism,” even as it rejects the very forces that made it exceptional. [...] Science [...] infrastructure [...] laws [...] education [...]. What do these all have in common? They were the source of our national prosperity and they were funded or enabled in whole or part by the government."

byron smith said...

CD: American exceptionalism has become American deceptionalism - the high cost of having to do everything your own way.

byron smith said...

Any history of US exceptionalism would be incomplete without reference to "the city on a hill" quote by Puritan leader John Winthrop. Here is another quote from Winthrop, which sounds like it would be anathema to many who shout loudest about US exceptionalism today:

"For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as His own people and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness, and truth then formerly we have been acquainted with."

byron smith said...

Greenwald: The premises and purposes of American exceptionalism.

byron smith said...

Greenwald: US now less popular in Muslim world than under Bush II.

byron smith said...

From a FB discussion of US exceptionalism:
_______________
Every country is exceptional in some sense or another. China can lay claim to be exceptional in plenty of important senses: one of the cradles of human civilisation and in the last fifteen years has lifted more people out of poverty than the US has citizens, witnessing the fastest economic growth in the history of humanity.

The US is exceptionally aggressive. It has overthrown more democratically elected governments, fought in (and started) more wars and dropped more nuclear weapons in anger than any other nation in recent history. It also incarcerates more of its people, has undermined more international treaties and contributed more to the destruction of a habitable planet than any other nation in recent history.

The US is not exceptional in any sense that makes it morally justified in its frequent breaches of international law or its many wars of aggression.

For all that, it still produces plenty of special people.

byron smith said...

NYT: Putin on US exceptionalism.

A masterful put-down from a consummate troll.