Archive for October, 2008

white lie

Friday, October 31st, 2008

2008, 8″x 16″x2″ oil/enamel on wood

american exceptionalism #1 (the demise of)

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Lots of Republicans, particularly Senator Brownback and VP hopeful Sarah Palin, have lately been making an open case for American exceptionalism. While the notion of exceptionalism has always been important in American identity politics (especially since the 50’s), it is only recently that it has left the dog whistle reservation and entered into the public debate, and is now explicitly mentioned by name. Its ironic, that since the Nixonian era of red-baiting, that the republicans have become the standard bearers of American exceptionalism – in that they have consolidated under them methods that have eventually led to the demise of said exceptionalism, while at the same time still appearing to idealize it.

A serious accounting of American exceptionalism needs to differentiate its more domestic interpretation (or red-neckism) from a more deeply rooted differential, that (at least) explains why the American system has so far managed to avoid the base antagonisms between labor and capital, and to as a result, circumvent the slide into either socialism , communism, or fascism as experienced in Europe. And so thus became unique, or exceptional. Because it was Alexis de-Tocqueville who in 1831 coined the exceptionalist label, it useful to return, for structure, to what he conceived of as the 5 values critical to America’s success as a democratic republic:

1) liberty

2) egalitarianism

3) individualism

4) populism

5) laissez-fare

For the sake of continuity, I would reinterpret these values as such. The three main pillars of which would be 1) a laissez-fare economy, 2) an equitable and apolitical judicary&legal system, and 3) a system that favors individualism over state power structures (as a matter of both foreign and domestic policy – which as an end result produces a meritocratic but egalitarian society that highly values individual initiative over statism. Such a system, in order to be successful must have as its primary ingredient, as it is indeed founded upon such values must have, a sense of fairness and equality, that informs all three pillars, i.e. a level economic playing field, equal opportunity, and freedom of choice and association. And because such a system, that is based essentially on trust, is especially fragile, it must be free of any unfair advantage, exclusive privilege, corruption, cronyism, and etc. as these easily contaminate the entire system. Which gets back to the the original observation of the irony of how the Republicans have appropriated the notion of American exceptionalism. And have used it to destroy the real prospects of American exceptionalism from becoming anything more than a lofty self serving ideal. Since the early days of Nixon’s red-baiting and race-baiting, when exceptionalism first became a rhetorical tool to define anything except Republicanism, as being something “other” than exceptional America – much progress has been made in moving past mere demonization and well on to the effect of transforming both foreign and domestic policy into a militant, corrupt, and regressive image of ideal America. Especially the last 8 years, where the Bush administration has rung the final potential and future out of American exceptionalism. By predicating the international disposition of the United States, along with ugly two wars, on the exceptionalist notion that every citizen of the world longs to be an American, and that its our duty to do what is ever necessary to make it so. To disassemble the checks and balances of government. To politicize the judicial branch into an arm of a singular party. To de-regulate the financial sector to permit unimaginable insider advantage and corruption. And to socialize the financial losses when the results reach the predictable catastrophic conclusion.

Beyond the standard popular venicular, I don’t know whether there ever was such a real codified thing such as American exceptionalism. Because if there ever was a chance of it becoming an actual fact, the Republican base has long long ago moved beyond simply prostituting it to instill fear of the other, and well on to if not preventing it from becoming a real potential, then killing it out right.

More topic conversation at the Moon of Alabama