Is America exceptional? This isn’t a new question by any stretch, but it seems like after Aaron Sorkin had his character from The Newsroom — fictional anchor Will McAvoy — definitively declare in the opening scene of his HBO drama that indeed America was not the greatest country in the world anymore (but that we could be again), the question has been asked more and more. It’s pumped into our heads from grade school how important the founding of our country was, and how exceptional the concept of liberty and justice for all truly was back in the eighteenth century.
But from the time that we had to break away from an actual monarchy to now, how many more free republics, created in our image, have been formed? How many frankly better Constitutions have been written? The truth is that yes, for many, many years we were the preeminent free society, and we did actually help spread “democracy” back then. We just didn’t do it with guns and tanks and nation building; we did it by example.
As time has marched on, it’s only inevitable that even the great empire that is The United States of America would see a decline of some sort. Sure, we’re still the most powerful military force on the planet. Our national debt underpins the global economy and in many ways the international community depends on us for moral, military and financial support. That doesn’t mean we’re exceptional — at least not in the way that some, particularly those on the right would have you believe. The world has caught up in a lot of ways, and in terms of things like health care, we have absolutely fallen behind. But fear not, fellow Americans. I believe I have found at least three things that Americans are still incredibly exceptional at, and the good news is that there’s still time to become really, really shitty at any one, if not all five of these things.
#3. Our Christian Conservatives Aren’t Very Christian
Say what you will about the Vatican — and God knows I will and do — but at least their current Pope has made an attempt to wrench his flock back toward the actual tenets of Christianity — unconditional love and helping the weakest among us. In recent weeks he’s intimated that he thinks atheists can get into heaven and that his church has become to obsessed with abortion and homosexuality and has lost sight of what the true purpose of the church was supposed to be — comforting those who need comfort.
Here in America, our so-called “Christian” leaders are the ones who are telling us that feeding the hungry and healing the sick is too much a burden. They tell us that it creates bad people; people dependent on our help. I defy you to scour the Bible and find me the passage where it says it’s acceptable to piss-test someone before you give them food. Find the Bible verse for me that tells me we should first set an arbitrary standard of morality that the needy must fulfill and then they can get our help. America’s truly exceptional at professing to be a “Christian” nation while defying nearly every teaching of the man for whom the entire religion is named.
#2. We Are An Advanced Society That Still Treats Our Health Like a Commodity
There are countries on this planet that have had some sort of socialized medicine for decades now, one of them being our closest international ally, the United Kingdom. The National Health Service is just a thing in Britain, and both sides of the aisle pretty much have accepted that it’s far better for the sick people in their country to get good medical care based on need and not on wealth. Sure, there are factions of their parliament that are as cold-hearted and sociopathic as Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz, but it’s not a daily fight they have to shut down the NHS. They’ve also not seen their entire country thrown into ruin over their socialized medicine either, so that’s one more right-wing talking point debunked isn’t it?
For some reason though, we still have a ton of people in this country who don’t view their health care as a human right, even though the international community has long since adopted that as part of its platform. The irony of course is that it typically winds up being the same people who profess a love of Jesus, but that’s already been covered in this list, hasn’t it? The truth is that some things in life should be not turned into profit centers because the result is what you have here in America — millions of people uninsured who then have only emergency rooms, expensive out of pocket doctors’ office visits, or free clinics as their health care options. That of course leads to skyrocketing health care costs from all the people waiting until something is truly emergent before they get the care they need.
Then there’s the really bitter irony that we’ve been propping up a socialist program for decades — the United States Armed Forces — and no conservative bats an eyelash about the socialized medicine, housing and education we provide our troops. Make no mistake — I’m not arguing against compensating the men and women and who sign up to die for the country should that need arise as well as we possibly can. I’m simply pointing out the exceptional hypocrisy of dumping money by the aircraft carrier load into socialist programs for our war machine, but not for our civilians back home.
#1. We Promise the Shit Out of Freedom and Deliver…Eventually…Maybe
I know, I’ve been taking the piss out of this country quite a bit here, haven’t I? The truth is that the older I get, the more of a love-hate relationship with this country I have. I still thank the Universe I was randomly plopped down in the United States in 1980 and not in say Europe during the Spanish Inquisition. I still see so much hope for this country of ours, and I am very thankful for the fact that I live in a country where I can pound my fingers down on a keyboard, talk immense amounts of shit on both our politicians and the very system they’re actively trying to manipulate for their gain without fear of being thrown in jail or killed by government for doing so.
That being said, what America’s always been most exceptional about is our innate hypocrisies. If you strip away all the nationalism from the story of our country’s birth you get a mixed bag of high-minded idealistic notions of “freedom” that have always been extended to not quite everyone. We enslaved a race of people for a couple centuries, started a brand new nation ostensibly “conceived in liberty” and we failed to make every human being truly free. We kept on enslaving people and then for good measure we started slaughtering natives who had been here for centuries before us as we marched to the Pacific Sea.
We’ve extended a hand in promise of help to many different immigrant groups, only to shun them once they get here as “others.” We are a nation that says that all are created equally and yet we still have people in this country fighting to keep members of the LGBT community from getting married and who actively try to keep women earning less than a man simply for the crime of having a vagina.
So here’s where I get to have my McAvoy Moment, I think. What keeps me coming back to loving this country is the fact that we have always fixed the broken stuff. Sometimes we use bandages when we should be amputating whole limbs, but we continually try to make things right. Maybe at the end of it all that’s what our Exceptionalism really is — the fact that we’ve always had at least some people in this country willing to fight against long odds to open the umbrella of freedom just a little bit wider.