View from the terrace of the family's Brooklyn Heights apartment

Thursday, February 14, 2013

American Exceptionalism?

The all-too-frequently asserted insistence on American exceptionalism is questionable if it means that America is more virtuous, just, free, and open to opportunity than any other country ever has been. Such jingoism is possible only by cherry picking the past and ignoring our history of slavery, segregation, imperialistic wars, and the excesses of capitalism, which produced robber barons, a long parade of financial panics and disasters, unchecked corporate power, political corruption, and the outrages still perpetrated by Wall Street and Big Banks with impunity.. There is one aspect of America, however, that clearly deserves the highest commendation. 

The strength of American society is based not upon the competence of its wealthiest, but upon the ability and willing cooperation of its average citizens. A random selection of New Yorkers, say, including street people and the poor, could come together, elect leaders, and do what is necessary--rescue work, reconstruction, provisioning, whatever. That is the unrecognized genius of the American people. They do not need to follow the orders of an elite. Much more so than our military might or financial power or political wisdom, the practical ability of the ordinary citizen is something Americans can truly be proud of.

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