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The true meaning of American exceptionalism? [Most commented]

December 2, 2011 | 12:49 pm

From both the left and the right, we've become accustomed to impassioned speeches about America's exceptionalism and predictions of another "American century."  But in his Op-Ed, Tom Engelhardt contends this repetition just shows how far we've fallen.  In describing his youth in the years after the end of World War II, he writes:

Back then, there was no need for presidents or presidential candidates to get up and repetitively reassure the American people of just how exceptional we were. It was too obvious to state. After all, when you've really got it, you don't have to flaunt it.

Engelhardt highlights "another strange repetitive feature of the present landscape" -- the current depiction of the American soldier:

Now, in the world of the all-volunteer Army, with the U.S. permanently, if remarkably unsuccessfully, at war around the world, the military largely exists in a separate sphere, with many Americans having no direct link to the wars being fought in their name and the soldiers who are fighting them.

Yet today, supporting the troops (or "America's warriors," as they are now often called) has become a near-religious duty. This recurrent insistence on their need for support should, like Romney's exceptionalism, be viewed as another kind of secret admission.

Reader response varied from approval to staunch disagreement. Here is a sampling of comments from our discussion board:  

Face reality and move on

It is about time someone came out and told the real truth about this country.  Kudos to the author of this piece for saying what has needed to be said for a long long time.

The time has long since come and gone for Americans to shed their conceit and face the reality that we are just residents of this planet like any others, regardless of where they happen to live.  By virtue of historical accident this country reaped a huge advantage in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, but it was an advantage we no longer have and will never regain.  The sooner we accept that fact the better off we will all be.

And cheer up people, this ain't a bad thing.

-- Kurt_48

This talk is merely political rhetoric

"President Obama too is prone to the overheated language of American exceptionalism, announcing frequently his intention to ensure that the 21st century is 'another American century.'"

In fairness to Obama, he IS the president of the United States, and Americans expect their presidents to say things like that, lest they seem unpatriotic.  Perhaps Mr. Englehardt forgot Obama's famous line on American exceptionalism.  When asked if he believed in such a thing, Obama, in his typical "but-on-the-other-hand" wishy-washy patter, blandly stated, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." as if to imply that EVERY country is exceptional, which is nonsense.

Is America an exceptional country?  Certainly.  Do we have a tendency to over-do it talking about ourselves?  Sometimes.

Should we choose to accept the current economic crisis as a permanent state of affairs and give in to despair? Certainly not.

Anybody who feels inclined to slouch toward the future the way Mr. Engelhardt does is cordially invited to reach into their pockets and buy a copy of his literary masterpiece.  The rest of us have real jobs.  Send us a book report and let us know how many pages you managed to get through before bursting a cerebral blood vessel.

-- GregMaragos

Feeling exceptional maintains democracy

Here's the gist of this column:  America is not exceptional.  It is mediocre. 

Once you believe that, then things like sovereignty can easily be washed away.  Welcome to the One-World govt., which by the way, isn't democratic.

-- rat.race.escapee

Generation X is ready to pounce

I just returned from travels to Asia, Canada, and EU.  The rest of the world looks pretty much like the U.S., only higher in population density, better health care system, better rail system, better educated.  The principal difference seems to be the "Boomer" generation over there.  American Boomers seemed to be FAR MORE self-promoting and narcissistic than their counterparts in Asia/EU, who had to work hard to rebuild their smashed-up countries after WWII and the Cold War.

But have no fear... the Baby Busters (Gen X) in the U.S., as a social counterpoint of American Boomers, are also very different.  Gen Xers in the U.S. are far more diverse and pragmatic.  We are sensitive and introspective... and we are watching, planning, and waiting for this narcissistic Hippie-Teaparty circus to burn itself out, all the while we unceremoniously bring about world-wide information revolution.

The time is now.  The Generation X is rising (mostly in America).  And we will make our country great again... this time without fanfare.

-- southsandiego

The real issue is America's working conditions

What Americans should be asking themselves is why Swedish IKEA factory workers are starting off at $19 a hour with 5 weeks' vacation time with single payer health care, while their American counterparts in West Virginia are starting off at $8 a hour with a combined total of 12 days vacation and sick leave, and no health care.

Keep on giving those CEO's and Wall Street fat cat's the tax breaks and deregulation they ask for while you blame immigrants, unions and public employees, people who are essence just like you for this country's problems as the rest of us honest, intelligent hardworking Americans, work longer hours for less pay and less benefits as our quality of life continues to diminish as our jobs continue to be shipped overseas for slave wages while a non majority but significant group of selfish misinformed minions continue to vote against their own best interests.

-- RaulGarcia

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


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Photo: A member of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division participates in a training exercise in the Kuwaiti desert.  Credit: Los Angeles Times

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