Last week, esteemed local publisher and part-time editor Don Rogers provided lamenting insight into his rags-to-riches rise from the deplorable depths of Hawaiian beaches to the peaks of our Rocky Mountain playground, ending with a self-deprecating stab by admitting a love of Rachmaninov while reading Dostyevsky.
Between the lines, however, was a well-crafted (even if a tad long) narrative about what I see as his belief in so-called “American exceptionalism,” basically the conservative creed that we are the chosen, the graduate school of nations, while the rest are either just making it out of high school or, in some cases, like Afghanistan, still in kindergarten.
Surprisingly, the phrase (which Don didn’t actually use, but dammit, he implied it) was first uttered by Joseph Stalin of all people, back in 1929, when he was whining incessantly about America’s disturbing ability to ignore the Marxist laws of history “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity and absence of rigid class distinctions.”
Personally, I call it damn good foresight with a heavy dose of good luck, but whatever ...
Either way, at that point the American Communist Party ran with it a while, leveraging the phrase to “prove” it was little more than arrogant boasting by a young nation intent upon achieving worldwide dominance.
We all know how well that worked out.
For both sides.
Today, the phrase “American Exceptionalism” is a marketing tool used by political parties, almost always the one out of power at the moment, to prove their party is the only “true” party, sort of like every religion that has ever existed making the same claim about one deity or another.
Fox News uses it repeatedly of late in an attempt to prove President Obama is not a true American patriot, and actually loves the governing styles of Europe (or Kenya, depending upon the talking head) better than our own, thus making him unfit for public office, much less the leader of the free world.
“If Americans can’t solve it, nobody can!” appears to be their mantra, and to imply otherwise, regardless of the issue, is a sign of weakness that must be terminated, post haste.
Yep, delusional ignorance can certainly cover a lot of ground nowadays.
But Rogers’ false bravado last week was a clever analogous use of personal history, proving to those that don’t “get you” about the adage of not judging a book by its cover, or something along those lines.
His main point appeared to be if Americans are so collectively stupid and lazy, then why are we still looked upon as the top of the world’s education pyramid and always cited as reference No. 1 whenever a meeting comes to order for the purpose of discussing how to fix the world’s problems?
The answer is, of course, Americans are not that stupid and lazy, but even when we are, compared collectively to the rest of the world, we’re still the top of the intellectual food chain, especially when it comes to education, innovation, scientific exploration and, yes, even entertainment.
So sure, Americans are and can be highly exceptional in plenty of ways when compared to the rest of the world.
Except for those times we are not.
(And for the record, I was listening to Willie Nelson while I wrote these words).
Richard Carnes, of Edwards, writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.