Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Exceptionalism

Last night, Rand Paul's push for power began looking more like a regular "putsch" with 'bagger brownshirts on the rampage beating up a woman. Says Death And Taxes mag:

Last night, ahead of Paul’s debate with Democratic rival Jack Conway, MoveOn activist Lauren Valle attempted to give Paul an “employee of the year” award from MoveOn group RepubliCorp, “a fake business MoveOn created to symbolize what it says is the merger of the GOP and business interests controlling political speech.”

Paul’s supporters were not amused, shoved her to the ground and then one of them stepped on Valle’s neck and head. Though the activist was able to speak with the press, she did later go to the hospital and has filed a police report.

This kind of 'bagger violence is starting to get normal. Last month a Sharron Angle supporter threw hands with a woman at a town hall meeting in Nevada. Then a few weeks ago Joe Miller thugs handcuff a reporter who ticked off Miller by trying to ask questions. So how did we get to this? This is supposed to be America, not 1920s Germany. But maybe it happens because it's America... (oops... here comes a train of thought... let me know how the ride goes.)

It's easy to get lost inside the bubble of "American Exceptionalism". It's easy to detach yourself from the rest of the world and ignore the very large flaws in the system we've built for ourselves. Just as in the old Soviet Union, we assume that our system is the best in the world because most of us know no better and those who do know better have a vested interest in preserving the delusion of perfection. We never compare ourselves critically with other systems. And we absolutely never wonder if other systems have figured some things out better than we have. We do not learn from others, we do not waiver in our exceptionalism... This is delusional. This is the worst kind of patriotism. And this is why we've ended up with textbook fascists running for office and a 'liberal' for president who'd be too right-wing for most European conservative parties. How did we get like this?

As Republicans are so keen to remind us, we live in a republic. America was not supposed to be a democracy. So stuff like political graft and blatant abuses of the democratic process within our (small r) republican framework (see: 2000 presidential elections, Americans For Prosperity, corporate citizenship, voter intimidation, etc.) are somehow not causes for alarm. In other industrialized nations, stuff like this would spark riots, bring down governments and demand prosecutions. But here? It's business as usual.

The key to understanding our "American Exceptionalism", is the fact that we've never had a tradition of social democracy in this country. Unlike Europeans or Canadians, we expect nothing from our government except to leave us alone. We don't even want what most people consider 'human rights' - e.g., access to health care, living wages and decent living standards. Most tax-paying citizens of developed nations take these things for granted. But here? 'Rights' are privileges for those able to afford them and the sense of "all in it together" that binds most advanced societies together has been replaced by "I got mine, f*ck you". Unions demanding better wages for their members? Bad. 503c organizations demanding lower taxes for the wealthy? Good. Somehow, government largesse should only extend to helping those who need no help.

But as a liberal, I believe in the awkward necessity of government. And I believe government should give us something in return for our taxes, that it should provide a safety net for the poor, that it should foster a sense of 'common good' and protect the vulnerable from the worst excesses of the free market. I don't want to return to the 'good old days' of 6½-day work weeks, company stores and robber barons. But most of all, I don't want to return to times when parties bullied, bribed and intimidated their way to power. I don't want to live in a country where thugs can beat a woman and we all just shrug and keep waving our little flags. WTF? Even given the odd standards of "American Exceptionalism" by which we live, how can this be happening?


1 comment:

  1. We agree on most of that Herb. American exceptionalism is that arrogance that makes other people hate us.


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