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“Will Make Americano for American Student” Thoughts on American Exceptionalism Abroad

“Will Make Americano for American Student” Thoughts on American Exceptionalism Abroad

This advertisement on a chalkboard in front of a café in France lured me in about a week ago. The promise of a familiar Americano at a discounted price was quite literally a godsend. Being abroad in Europe, where the comfort of America is only found in little pockets of heaven called Starbucks, makes you feel very American. Being in this environment for almost a month, paired with a heavy dose of research on Stalin’s Russia for one of my history classes, has got me thinking about one thing: American Exceptionalism.

The phrase was actually coined by Stalin, who called it heresy, but it has come back into the debate recently concerning military action in Syria. How wonderful that the world should choose to reconsider the superiority of America right as I’m doing the same thing in the microcosm of my study abroad experience.

In his hotly debated letter article sent to the New York Times, President Putin said the following in response to a speech made by President Obama:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American Exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

Have we been encouraged to see ourselves as exceptional? Are we?

There are certainly American views that are unique and, I’d argue, pretty exceptional. A 2011 Pew Global Attitudes Project Poll on the difference between Western and distinctly American values highlighted this. When asked to choose what was more important: “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” or “state guarantees [that] nobody is in need”, Americans overwhelmingly chose freedom over security. On the other hand, most Western European countries (who we like to think are somewhat ideological aligned with us) valued security. Germany, for example, valued security at an overwhelming margin of 62 percent.

Similarly, Americans seem to hold onto the idea of free will while other countries dismiss it as a delusion. When asked, by the same survey, if “success in life is determined by forces outside our control”, 72 percent of Germans agreed compared to only 36 percent of Americans. So, clearly, the way Americans see the world can be deemed “exceptional” compared to Western Europe.

And historically, it is indeed important to recognize the unique role the US has played in shaping the world. I’m sure some of my British peers here in Oxford would take me up on this debate and defend Britain as the true mother of personal freedom (based on the Magna Carta), but the United States really was the first country to regard government by the people as a practical reality. We functioned without a monarchy and official aristocracy, which was seen as impossible for much of Europe. It’s become increasingly clear to me that while people in the States whine and moan about inequality, our society is relatively inclusive and equal. The obnoxious idea of the nobility is ever-present in England. America is exceptionally egalitarian in the way we think. Even if this ideology isn’t always realized, it’s the way of thinking that is incredibly unique. Here in Oxford, people really do care (a great deal) if you are an Earl, Count or Duke (and if you’re a woman, forget it, titles revert to the crown if there is no male to adopt them). This notion repulses most Americans of my generation who believe in the value of earning one’s own way. Especially because, as revealed by one of my courses on the English monarchy, some real duds and crazies (with a propensity for killing family members) have been entrusted with dukedoms.

In general, I’d assert that Americans are more individualistic and certain of progress than most people around the world. It’s part of our national identity; it is exceptional. Not exceptional as in superior but exceptional as in distinct, different, unique and a reason to have pride in our country.

But attacks on American Exceptionalism by Putin and others have left many young people in a sort of limbo. It’s almost not politically correct to assert your faith in your country and its system. This was made clear by Oxford peer and fellow American, Jenna, who was asked to write a paper about what economic system she would choose to be born into if she didn’t know anything about who she would be. She could be any gender, race or socio-economic status yet she had to choose a system and commit to it. We both acknowledged this was her professor’s tricky way of deducing what justice meant to his pupils. When she asked me for my advice, I ventured a nervous “…um democracy?…capitalism?..” to which she responded she didn’t want to give a typical American response.

But what’s wrong with the typical American response? It’s time Americans stop self-loathing and get on board because when it comes down to it, America is not perfect, it is not blameless but it is damn exceptional.

Columnist Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it well when he said:

When we say we are exceptional, what we really are saying is we are different. With few exceptions, we are all strangers to our land; our families came from all corners of the world and brought all of its colors, religions and languages. We believe this mixing, together with our free society, has produced generations of creative energy and ingenuity, from the Declaration of Independence to Facebook, from Thomas Jefferson to Miley Cyrus. There is no other country quite like that.

So, consider this my response letter to Putin. American is exceptional, not blameless or perfect, but there is certainly no other country like it.

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  • GWB says:

    To quote that unfortunate Brit whose countenance cannot be abided in the White House:
    “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

    I will agree that a lot of Americans are no longer exceptional. But the idea of America most certainly is. And *I* won’t let it go down without a fight.

  • John Lloyd Scharf says:

    It went down without a fight long before you were born.
    The Declaration of Independence says,”…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …”

    Then the Constitution created powers for Congress:
    To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
    So, they can make every right you have moot with a tax.
    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
    So they can enslave you by civil conscription for anything from jury selection and road building to a “peace corps.”

    This “Constitutional Republic” has always been corrupt in denying the people their inalienable rights. No piece of paper protects your rights or even stops a bullet.Under the Sedition Act of 1798, you would have been put in prison for two years for opposing the government.
    SECTION I. Punishes combinations against United States government.
    1. Definition of offence:Unlawfully to combine or conspire together to oppose any measure of the government of the United States, &c. This section was not complained of.2. Grade of offence:A high misdemeanour.3. Punishment:Fine not exceeding $5000, and imprisonment six months to five years.
    SECTION II. Punishes seditious writings.
    1. Definition of offence:To write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute, or to excite against either the hatred of the people of the United States, or to stir up sedition, or to excite unlawful combinations against the government, or to resist it, or to aid or encourage hostile designs of foreign nations.2. Grade of offence:A misdemeanour.3. Punishment:Fine not exceeding $2000, and imprisonment not exceeding two years.
    SECTION III. Allows accused to give in evidence the truth of the matter charged as libellous.
    SECTION IV. Continues the Act to 3d March, 1801.
    That was signed into law by President John Adams after being passed by a Congress of “Founding Fathers.”

    Under the Indian Removal Act our ancestors had their lands pilliaged with the hope of sending them to a place where “lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.This was the Jackson-era legislation authorizing the president to transfer Eastern Indian tribes to the western territories promised (falsely) “in perpetuity”. The actual relocation culminated in the 1838 “Trail of Tears” forced march, one of the most shameful occurrences in the history of federal domestic policy.

    Because of a Supreme Court stacked by Andrew Jackson, free men were denied the protection of the Constitution. The Court said:
    4. A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.
    5. When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its “people or citizens.” Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them. And not being “citizens” within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit.

    Did slavery end with the 13th Amendment? NO. You have a right to be a slave to the government. Butler v. Perry179 upheld a Florida law that required men to work without pay for six days every year on roads and bridges. Failure to answer a road work summons was a criminal offense. J.W. Butler was jailed for 30 days after he ignored this duty and failed to make an alternate arrangement. It was involuntary servitude, but because of the powers granted government, it was held the 13th Amendment did not apply.

    Because of an internment by Executive order, Japanese, German, and Italian Americans born in the US were interned in concentration camps. Did you think Natives and Blacks were the only ones? On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 granting the War Department broad powers to create military exclusion areas. While most think these were only Japanese, the history is otherwise.

    You cannot even grow feed for your chickens without permission from the US government.
    A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for on-farm consumption in Ohio. The U.S. government had established limits on wheat production based on acreage owned by a farmer, in order to drive up wheat prices during the Great Depression, and Filburn was growing more than the limits permitted. Filburn was ordered to destroy his crops and pay a fine, even though he was producing the excess wheat for his own use and had no intention of selling it.

    Can the government force you to buy private insurance for health care [“Obamacare”], or any other product they decide?

    Yes, because they can give you a tax penalty under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

    National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in which the Court upheld Congress’s power to enact most provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare, and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA), including a requirement for most Americans to have health insurance by 2014.

    Beginning in 2014, those who do not comply with the mandate must make a “[s]hared responsibility payment” to the Federal Government. §5000A(b)(1). The Act provides that this “penalty” will be paid to the Internal Revenue Service with an individual’s taxes, and “shall be assessed and collected in the same manner” as tax penalties. §§5000A(c), (g)(1).

    Make no mistake. “We the People” did not vote for these laws because in a republic you do not have a vote on the issues; not even a referendum. It is not a democracy requiring the consent of the governed; nor was it intended to be from the beginning. The Constitution does not protect our rights without giving Congress the power to obstruct them. History and the courts have proven that over and over.

    It was intended, as most do not know, or wish not to, to project and protect the power of the elites in general and the landowners in particular.

    Jefferson in a letter to Adams was indicating his agreement that the “natural aristocracy” should be in power and said, “The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.” Thomas Jefferson also said in that letter:
    The selecting the best male for a Haram of well chosen females also, which Theognis seems to recommend from the example of our sheep and asses, would doubtless improve the human, as it does the brute animal, and produce a race of veritable {aristoi} [“aristocrats”].

    Keep in mind Jefferson had slaves to then end and only freed a favored few. There is no chance the Constitution of the United States would have included the right of citizens to vote on the issues in a referndum. The idea of the hoi paloi keeping Congress or the President in check would have been repugnant at the minimum.

    • GWB says:

      I won’t clutter these wonderful ladies’ blog by arguing with you. I’m sure they can do that *very* handily if they decide to do so. I will say, however, that your analysis is a few bricks shy of a load in the history department. We were created as a republic of 13 states, not as a democracy.

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