Who can really claim to love the country more: the Crazy Rich, the multinational corporation, or the rest of us?
The Crazy Rich just want more for themselves; more money for the sake of money, more power to impose their will on the majority. If they had to choose between making the country better and making themselves even slightly richer, they will choose the latter.
Multinational corporations, by design, do not give a damn about this country. They may appear to do so only to the extent that it promotes their prime directive: profit. Of course a multinational corporation would favor road maintenance, because it uses those roads to move their goods. It doesn’t care about maintaining the nation’s infrastructure in order to make the country better.
The rest of us have a duty to tap into our patriotism. Patriotism is OK. If we love our country it follows that we want to make it the best it can be. The rest of us care more about the condition of the country because, well, we have to live here. We can’t hide in gated communities or move our operations overseas.
Any patriotic American should be outraged about how our country has been looted by the financial elites.
To those on the left, your feeling that you want to make the country a better place, like it or not, is patriotic. Patriotism is OK. It is natural to care about your country because that is your home, the place you and your friends and family live. Of course you want it to be great. It is patriotic to make it the best that it can be.
On the other hand, there is a danger that patriotism can go to far. That’s where we find this American Exceptionalism crap. They are asking you to embrace the myth so you can discard any responsibility for reality. This warped version of patriotism needs do be discarded with the warped Randian capitalism.
American Exceptionalism is the belief that America is the greatest country in the history of the planet and our unique position and values are literally a gift from God that should be spread worldwide through our shining example and/or direct “leadership.”
American Exceptionalism misleads with its fourth-dimensional mindset. Add up the achievements of each nation across the totality of history and, yes, America is the greatest of all time. But riddle me this: is today’s America the greatest America that ever existed at any point in time? Is it greater than any America that could exist in the future?
American Exceptionalism is a stalking horse for small-c conservatism, for those seeking to maintain the status quo, those that are doing really great right now. American Exceptionalism fools you into thinking we’re the greatest, so there is no need to change anything, no need to address any problems because either they don’t exist or are too minor to bother with because we’re still the greatest country in the world.
A true patriot wants their country to truly be its best. It is patriotic to identify where your country is falling behind and then seek ways to improve things.
I believe American Exceptionalism is so appealing because it has a kernel of truth: The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world. Right there is the key word that could make it true: history. America has been consistently great. On average across the country’s brief 235 year history we’ve been the greatest. But it is more like the esteem of a great pro sports franchise.
Arguably, the Boston Celtics are the greatest NBA team. Over the history of the league, they have the most championships (17). But they are not great every year. For instance, in the 1996-1997 season they suh-diddly-ucked at 15-67. They have had some down years where they crashed and had to undertake a rebuilding process, getting stronger again to win the title in 2008. They didn’t become great again by keeping the same coach and roster of players from 1997 and chanting “We’re Number 1!” No, they made changes and even took some players and tactics from, gasp, other teams. They didn’t reject positive changes simply because they were not the Celtic way.
Here is where the strongest adherents of American Exceptionalism lose me. Their take seems to be not that America is the greatest and most perfect nation ever, but America is the greatest and most perfect always. To them there is no need for improvement and it is impossible for other countries to invent better ways of doing things. (We’ve also held on to our Model-T version of democracy too long, but that’s worthy of its own post.)
Another part of the appeal of American Exceptionalism is it gets into individuals’ heads through their personal identity. Like it or not, your nationality is part of who you are. It’s part of your personal self esteem. American Exeptionalism appeals to many because it makes them feel good about themselves. People like being told they are special because they are an American. It is easy to see how many people are especially susceptible to believing so strongly in American Exceptionalism: they may not have much else in their individual lives to be proud of aside from their nationality. Or as Julian Sanchez puts it:
You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism — a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of “American-ness” relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it.
To those on the right, it is OK to make a distinction between healthy patriotism and American Exceptionalism. As one conservative wrote:
Republicans have sought refuge in a form of American exceptionalism that has remarkably little to do with the real America. Republicans have made a defense of “American exceptionalism” the thing that is supposed to distinguish them from Obama, and in order to make that claim they have defined American exceptionalism to mean an absurd overconfidence in the political and economic uniqueness and supremacy of America. To take pride in economic opportunity available here, they feel that they must deny that it exists elsewhere.
The sort of American exceptionalism that has become the defining feature of Republican rhetoric over at least the last two years seems to require “boasting of the largeness” of America at every turn. This is not healthy admiration for one’s country, but an idolatry that prevents its devotees from seeing things as they are.
So while we should be wary of American Exceptionalism, it does not mean we should abandon any feelings of patriotism. Our shared love of country could help bring together a broad range of Americans with differing viewpoints to rescue our nation from the risks posed by the continuing march toward even more extreme wealth inequality. It is this extreme inequality (as opposed to a more reasonable inequality inherent in well-functioning American capitalism) that causes a ridiculously disproportionate amount of power to be shifted to the ultra wealthy. The crux of the danger comes as some of these very, very rich do not have America’s best interests at heart.
Tapping into our patriotism can help us at least temporarily put aside disagreements on other issues to take on this greater threat. Which leads to Class War Rule #4… which is here.