zondag 1 juli 2018




American Exceptionalism

The Russian Peace Threat, Punto Press, 2018 (New York), 564 pp.

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM IS an ideology in itself. It holds that “America” is unique among all countries for being a “land of opportunities”. Americans are unique among all peoples for their ideals of democracy, liberty, personal freedom, individualism— that everyone who works hard regardless of roots or class can become rich and even become a president—everyone who is white and male, that is. That last caveat was the “exception to the rule” of American Exceptionalism until the 20th century when, first women and later black people could officially be equal, and could occupy the White House built by African slaves. (1)
French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville was the first writer to describe the country as “exceptional” in his book, Democracy in America (1835).
American Exceptionalism embraces Manifest Destiny—the belief that it is Americans’ destiny to expand their “exceptional” qualities first throughout the Americas, in mid-19th century, and later to the whole world—spreading the good word with sword and movies. Many believe Americans are chosen by God to civilize the world, to bring the world its democracy. The first war fought with “god on its side” was against Mexico (chapter 18).
This superior view of America’s place in the world was already codified in 1823 with the Monroe Doctrine, named after President James Monroe’s foreign policy. First it warned Europe that Latin America was to come under United States doctrine while Europe could keep its other colonies.
Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg address (1863) that Americans have a duty to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” got interpreted to mean it is Americans’ mission to extend their superiority over other nations.
Many presidents took up the term American Exceptionalism in their wars, among them: Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Spreading democracy to Vietnam.

While American Exceptionalism does not apply only to one religion or ethnic group (in later years blacks could be included), it is akin to what many Jews believe of themselves as being God’s “chosen people”, entitled to the Palestinian “promised land…of milk and honey” at the expense of the Arab peoples. U.S. manifest destiny promoters accept this postulate as it aids their drive for Middle Eastern oil—so much so that for the only time in history, it looked the other way when another state attacked it. The survivors of the USS Liberty know this first hand after Israel bombed their ship for hours and killed 34 American sailors. ( http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/ussliberty.html )
The actual phrase American Exceptionalism may have originated in the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin. He condemned many American Communists, including some leaders, who suggested that the U.S. was impervious to communist ideals, that American workers were “exceptional” because there were no rigid class distinctions, and they would not embrace a socialist revolution. With minor exceptions few workers have, in fact, embraced the classic Marxist concepts of the need for class struggle and socialist revolution.
Why is that? Colleague Gaither Stewart writes in “The Greanville Post”, October 2, 2017:
“In a great dialectic the survival needs of the bourgeoisie generate the resistance that can ultimately crush it—the resistance that according to Marxist theory will crush it someday. These days, there for everyone to see, for everyone to feel, is the spreading sense of unease marking its successive economic- financial crises point to the eventual demise of bourgeois, bandit capitalism.
So why has it not already happened, one must wonder? Why hasn’t it collapsed long ago? ough the bourgeoisie—capitalist class— is small and the proletariat wage earners an overwhelming majority, why don’t the exploited classes rebel and rebel, revolt and revolt, again and again? Why not? e reason is clear: the exploited classes are not only victims. ey are also accomplices—half victim, half accomplice. e historical paradox! e ruling class counts on this dichotomy to maintain the system. Divide and rule. Meritocracy. Rewards for obedience. Two cars and bigger houses for staying in line. A system based on money, domination, pervasive indoctrination of Orwellian proportions, and fear. Religion too, and FEAR. Fear of fear. Fear of change. Fear, fear, fear. A fearful people is an obedient people.”  (https://www.greanvillepost.com/2017/10/02/definitions-the-bourgeoisie/ )
I agree with Stewart and add that the U.S. capitalist class can afford to give a bit more to many of its homeland exploited as the capitalists exploit workers in “third world” countries all the more. They create false consciousness through the divide and conquer rule, and by instilling fear.
American Exceptionalism works best on Americans when they convince themselves to believe the ruler’s lies thereby maintaining their ignorance. They feel safe by refusing to see the truth, by accepting the rules for fear of losing their jobs, fear of being outcast by friends and family, fear of being jailed or even killed if they decide to seek the truth and then act upon it. at is what stands behind a lot of America’s racist and genocidal violence perpetrated by the white working class clothed in overalls or military uniforms under the orders of the ruling elite.
My editor, Patrice Greanville, a onetime academic and lifelong media and social critic, with a multicultural background in Europe and Latin America, has also found American Exceptionalism a compelling phenomenon. In correspondence with me, he offers some thoughts on why so many Americans may have come to believe they are superior to other peoples and all other countries. The material below is excerpted from a monograph in preparation:
American exceptionalism is one of those peculiarities that make the U.S. such an exasperating enigma to so many people around the world. Exceptionalism, per se, is just one form of chauvinism, itself an offshoot of tribalism, a recognition that humans are (and feel) divided by real or imagined differences, and that many tend to feel superior to others.
Just about every country under the sun today—big and small, old and young— is chauvinist in some way. Bolivia and Chile, I know for a fact, are chauvinist, and so is Brazil and France, of course, and Britain, and Italy—as anyone attending an international soccer match can attest—is in a class by itself. Russia, naturally, to some extent, shares this trait, too, and even China and India, both ancient, foundational civilisations noted for their inner balance and firm identities, also show instances of national vanity. The Germans even had a national anthem once proclaiming to be “uber alles”—it doesn’t get more explicit than that. Little Togo is probably chauvinist in its own peculiar way. So “exceptionalism” is not that rare at all.
But, there are degrees of chauvinism among nations, like differences in temperament, in narcissism, and these differences can have serious consequences. In that sense—as shown by recent polls—US chauvinism is very pervasive. It’s chauvinism on steroids—insistent, intrusive, obnoxious, and even devious.
And these are just what we might call its “mundane” characteristics, where it most resembles other cases of acute national self-approval. The problem is that narcissism at the national level is no less toxic a personality disorder than at the individual level. And when this trait defines the character of a reality-averse, often petulant jejune superpower, US exceptionalism really becomes a threat to everything alive on the face of this planet. How did this monstrous deformation come to occupy the center of US political life, to be seen as a “foundational belief ” with many of the accoutrements of a de facto religion? I say religion because religions are not supposed to be questioned in their logic or factuality.
A closer look at US exceptionalism begins to give the game away. It finds its claims false or undistinguished and its uses malignant: The ideal mask for modern US imperialism, immunising it, at least in the eyes of the vastly disinformed home populace, against any and all possible charges of impure intent and wanton criminality. But the exceptionalist myth, an organism comprised of subsidiary mythologies, goes even further: wrapped in its customary sanctimoniousness, it grants the ruling plutocrats unlimited access to the blood, muscle and treasure of most ordinary Americans, while also proclaiming with the audacity of a shameless mountebank the right of the United States to be acknowledged as the world’s natural leader, the “indispensable nation” under God.
Casual observers might think the rise of exceptionalism was largely spontaneous: a nation of immigrants—the losers fleeing Europe’s brutal class wars—showing, rather compulsively, their eternal gratitude to the new land of opportunity. But they would be mistaken. Nothing with real power consequences is ever that accidental or left to chance in America, especially when it has been found by the ruling orders to be an extremely useful tool in the management of their subject population. To paraphrase media analyst pioneer Alex Carey, the American system of pseudo democracy saw in exceptionalism’s multifaceted manifestations another terrific instrument to “take the risk out of democracy,” something the Founding Fathers themselves had been keenly interested in and maneuvered to implement. ( They mostly succeeded.). In a way, the immigrants’ naive vision of America gave the expansionist wing of the US ruling class, the folks who had embraced Manifest Destiny with a passion, and already stolen half of Mexico by mid 19th century, a shot in the arm, the ultimate seal of approval.
John Gerassi, a noted Latin Americanist and political scientist had little trouble puncturing the conceits of US exceptionalism, and by extension its devilish spawn, US foreign policy, a criminal enterprise, with rare lapses, almost from inception. Speaking about Manifest Destiny, something Bolivar and Marti also warned us about, he states:
“That has been our policy in Latin America. It began in recognizable manner in 1823 with President Monroe’s declaration warning non-hemisphere nations to stay out of the American continent. Because of its rhetoric, America’s liberal historians interpreted the Monroe Doctrine as a generous, even altruistic declaration on the part of the United States to protect its weaker neighbors to the south. To those neighbors, however, that doctrine asserted America’s ambitions: it said, in effect, Europeans stay out of Latin America because it belongs to the United States. A liberal, but not an American, Salvador de Madariaga, once explained its hold on Americans:
‘I only know two things about the Monroe Doctrine: one is that no American I have met knows what it is; the other is that no American I have met will consent to its being tampered with. That being so, I conclude that the Monroe Doctrine is not a doctrine but a dogma, for such are the two features by which you can tell a dogma. But when I look closer into it, I find that it is not one dogma, but two, to wit: the dogma of the infallibility of the American President and the dogma of the immaculate conception of American foreign policy.’”  (Violence, Revolution, and Structural Change in Latin America, https://www.greanvillepost.com/2018/02/21/ violence-revolution-and-structural-change-in-latin-america/).
As promulgated by its national identity myth, America is good, was born good, and can only do good. We have an obligation to share our good with other nations. It follows that if the immaculate conception defines our highly moral foreign policy, our similarly excellent economic system—capitalism—or “free enterprise” if you like—could and must define “americanness”, what to be an American, a truly free individual, really means, not to mention the onetime much envied “American Way of Life.”
For only in the US to be against capitalism is also to be “un-American”, a suspect in patriotic virtue, an illogical and absurd construct that no one seems to notice, let alone oppose, due to the sheer enforced ubiquity of the concept due to nonstop propaganda legitimating it. In Italy, Germany, Mexico, France, or even England, where capitalism first matured, the idea of calling, say, a British communist “anti-British” or an Italian socialist “anti-Italian”, would sound odd if not downright laughable. But not here. How come?
Built on a tissue of mostly transparent lies that few rational minds would have difficulty uncovering, the exceptionalist myth is enormously resilient. Cursory inspection reveals layer upon layer of self-flattering claims and assumptions (many riddled with contradictions), while thick hypocrisy lubricates every nook and cranny of the mendacious edifice, making the whole a well-integrated, smoothly functioning imperialist ideology ideally tailored to a population that believes itself to inhabit a democracy. As the author points out at the beginning of this chapter, US exceptionalism is no run-of-the-mill hyper-nationalism as we observe in other nations; it is a full-blown catechism informing and enabling many aspects of the US governmental apparatus. Indeed, the “American Way of Life” never had a deeper meaning than in this essential aspect of its existenceFor—to the misery of the world—the US ruling class has learned to use this ideology adroitly for conquest and subversion abroad and pacification at home.
Empires, however, especially compulsory hegemonists like the U.S., do not do well in holy matrimony with genuine democracies. One tends to exclude and cancel the other. In the U.S., with a very weak or pretend democracy, this organic tension does not really exist, although the task of keeping appearances is becoming increasingly challenging to all the main parties involved. The fact is that Americans now live in a violent, lawless empire, not a regular nation, the US homeland merely serving as the outward carapace for the business of the transnational capitalist hegemon, whose sole object is to advance and defend the interests of the global plutocracy, of which the US branch is (still) the undisputed leader.
This is is of course a fraud of colossal proportions, especially for trusting souls stuck on Civics 101, but one which the propaganda system is still managing to keep afloat. Fractures on the bubble’s wall are finally starting to appear. As certified now even by Ivy League political scientists, the US is only a make-believe democracy. With the core unit of capitalism, the corporation, as the dominant social engine, the whole nation’s dynamic issues from a hierarchic tyranny.
An article by investigative historian Eric Zuesse confirms this heretical finding:
“A study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, ‘Who governs? Who really rules?’ in this country, is: “Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to [formal, not substantive] democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, they go on to say, 
“America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the frst-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead ‘“the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
To put it short: the United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy. The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled ‘Testing eories of American Politics.’ The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich.” (See “US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study”, by Eric Zuesse, Common Dreams, April 14, 2014 (https://www.commondreams.org/views/ 2014/04/14/us-oligarchy-not-democracy-says-scientific-study).
While Gilens and Page document the long known fact that the super rich are no friends of democracy, they are coy in naming capitalism as the system that makes the rise of tycoons inevitable.
But enormous wealth concentration has other highly toxic effects in America. The grotesque inequality and non-existence of actual governing power by the masses at home has been the hidden counterpart to the brutal imperialistic regime abroad implemented by the native elites, something to which hundreds of millions of people in scores of nations, large and small, can attest. In this manner, protected by its “exceptionalist” propaganda endowing it with axiomatic, unerring, moral superiority, and (as tirelessly proclaimed by its ruling class) charged with the “sacred duty” to carry “freedom and democracy” to all corners of the planet, the US has been able to lead a sordid double life for almost 200 years: arguably mostly Dr Jekyll at home, murderous meddlesome Mr Hyde across the globe.
Some readers no doubt will argue at this point that it was capitalism that gave America the distinction of being the first nation to spawn a large, affluent middle class, with many of its members living as well or better than their social superiors in the old world.
While this is true in the narrow sense, the phenomenon was largely a historical accident not inherent in capitalism. It was war spending—a form of military Keynesianism—that rescued America from a still debilitating Great Depression. The timing of modern era’s European wars to divide the world’s “colonial spoils”, also serendipitous, presented America with extremely fortunate opportunities to develop its industrial might and political clout. Indeed except for self-inflicted wounds such as the Civil War the U.S. has enjoyed uninterrupted peace in its own homeland for over three centuries thanks to its exquisite geostrategic location, making it a virtual island continent flanked by two gigantic oceans and two weak powers, one an easy target for land grabs, Mexico, the other—Canada—a satellite of a declining empire almost from inception. Thus, by 1945 America stood as the sole world superpower with both its population and industrial infrastructure virtually intact, and in a state of readiness to flood the world with its cornucopia of goods, all of which allowed labor to negotiate better terms and capitalists to grant them, thereby laying the groundwork for the age of affluence that characterised the “golden years” of US capitalism.
Add to this the infusion of cheap labor for many generations via mass immigration due to the deplorable European and other old world class systems, coupled with another great accident, having the best topsoil in the world, and you get the makings of a veritable miracle in US agriculture: the most productive, even without its high quotient of early mechanization.
Thus, when we compare Russian/Soviet and U.S. agricultural output, the “fix was in”, so to speak. Besides being poor, in turmoil, with its underdeveloped infrastructure in shambles for a long time due to war wounds, and encircled by enemies, Russians had to contend with one of the hardest lands to cultivate, a lot of it permafrost. Yes, the USSR/Russia territory is big, 11 time zones, but a lot of that is essentially not very fertile. This advantage which was paraded as a triumph of capitalism over socialism was again, when examined, based on serendipity, an accident of nature. Virtually all the conceits of the “indispensable nation” to justify its sociopathic imperialist trajectory are grounded in bunk. No wonder that historical truth is persona non grata in America.
It should be clear by now that the main purpose of cultivating the exceptionalist myth is to bolster the fortunes of the global capitalist elites, with the Americans in the vanguard, primus inter pares. This prompts a final question: Can we envision a strong, capitalist America, not needing its claims to exceptionalism? Yes we can, but that nation would also be inherently diseased, riddled with incurable sociopathies, and ultimately unviable. The short answer to this is because capitalism itself is a highly unstable, inherently amoral, self-liquidating system. As it grows old, passing from its competitive phase to monopoly, and from a deficient democracy to plutocratic imperialism, it generates more and more contradictions that eventually make it insufferable to everything living under its dominion. Capitalism is a terminal condition. It cannot be fixed. (Excerpted from Understanding US Exceptionalism, a monograph in preparation, P. Greanville, 2018).

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