Jolene Rae Harrington – Palin’s Exceptional America
Before, during and after the recent vice-presidential debate, Governor Palin claimed that she shared John McCain’s view of American Exceptionalism. Let’s examine that phrase and what it implies.
The term means quite simply that America and Americans are better than everyone else. Therefore, the argument generally goes, Americans are entitled to impose their “exceptional” will on others, which though on the surface appears to be “freedom and democracy for all,” usually means economic and militarily strategic arrangements that favor the U.S.
Most Americans have no problem with this concept. They don’t see how dangerously close it is to that 19th century concept of “Manifest Destiny,” that expansionist policy which led to the attempted extermination of Native Americans and permanent displacement of Mexicans from the Southwest. It’s the same policy that drove Teddy Roosevelt and his ilk to take over Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other indefensible nations.
The original America, the one envisioned by our Founding Fathers (those wise men so often invoked on the campaign trail) was an isolationist America, one who minded her own business unless she was messed with. Though in reality this policy proved impractical, its idealism is a far cry from the Bush Doctrine (which we’ll spell out here for the benefit of Sarah Palin: The right to make pre-emptive strikes against a nation simply perceived as a potential threat, even if that threat exists only in the mind of the president and his Neo-con cabal.) Clearly, the concept of American Exceptionalism as it applies to foreign policy is a slippery slope of Himalayan proportions.
But there’s another aspect to the ideology that is also fundamentally at odds with American principles: That all human beings are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For those of you who missed it, this concept so eloquently spelled out in our Declaration of Independence means that we are all equal–which by corollary means that NONE of us is exceptional. These Enlightenment ideals were borrowed from European philosophers like Locke and Rousseau. It implies that the principle may not be perfectly realized in our imperfect world, certainly not in the fledgling nation which still condoned slavery, but it yet remained the American ideal to which we would strive.
And until modern America relinquishes the concept that they are inherently “better” than every other sovereign peoples, we will continue to be viewed as arrogant bullies by the rest of the world; we’ll continue to justify our imperialistic and self-aggrandizing actions because it’s our right, because we know what’s best, because, well, we’re exceptional; America will continue to hold out the helping hand of foreign aid while brandishing our big stick in the other.
Ultimately, we may be doing so at our own peril.
Tags: American Exceptionalism, Sarah Palin, Founding Fathers, Manifest Destiny, John Locke, Rousseau, Enlightenment, Neo-con, Bush Doctrine, Declaration of Independence