Written By: Anton Sawyer
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There's absolutely nothing that fills my soul with joy more than when an organization uses impossible-to-define vaguery as a centralized pillar to its moral foundation. Though both wings of the political parties have their key phrases, I wanted to focus on one that is used excessively by the right.
Not only a classic, but this platitude is what many Americans see as the primary reason we've been able to survive 2020 at all: American Exceptionalism.
First off, if you are someone who feels as though anything which might be considered critical of the United States is an immediate justification for deportation, I beg you to continue. I promise that I don't relish any of what I am about to write—none of what is here gives me pleasure to say about my homeland—but you can't fix an issue if you don't know one exists.
The main problem with using the concept of American Exceptionalism as a core value is trying to pin down what that actually means.
One factor that has been used throughout humanity to see how exceptional a society has been, is through the education of its citizens. We've watched public education funding, teacher's salaries, and the educational complex as a whole receive drastic pay cuts since the beginning of the millennium. Because of such a huge burden on our teachers, parents, and students in the US, we have been on a downward trajectory for quite a while. Per Pew Research, a study in 2015 showed the US was ranked 38th in math and 24th in science. An even more recent study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington showed that overall, the US ranked 27th in these metrics as of 2016. One of the more bitter statistics regarding the American educational system and American Exceptionalism is how little we know about our own country. A 2018 study by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation sampled 1,000 Americans and found that only 36% could actually pass the citizenship test. Pew research has had similar results with their findings when running the same test periodically over the last 15 years. Right now, in the United States of America, two-thirds of the country require immigrants to know more about the country than even they themselves understand. It's difficult to look at someone and say "If you want to be my equal, then you have to know a lot more about my homeland than I do," and be taken seriously.
So if not educational numbers, then what?
When you look around at the many political commentators that use the phrase regularly, each one has their own definition, and example(s) to justify that definition.
In 2018 Glenn Beck surmised that our American Exceptionalism was centered around taking care of your fellow man. "America, this is who you are: You just set a record high in charitable giving this past year. America, you eclipse the world in total dollars given from your own hard-earned wallet. And the vast majority of that money — $287 billion — was given, not by corporations or foundations, but by single individuals. People like you and me."
How we've responded as a nation to Covid would imply that his sentiment of generosity isn't exactly accurate.
Though there are no specific statistics for people who don't wear masks simply because they don't want to, a Pew Research poll in September of 2020 does give us a clue.
Among Republicans, the polling showed that the number one reason the Covid-19 pandemic has made their lives more difficult or challenging was the mask itself. By contrast, this same reason was second from the bottom when it came to Democrats. Regardless of these numbers, having to wear or deal with a mask is something a huge portion of the population loathes. Some of the quotes that were given to pollsters show that no matter the science—or what they think is the science—the hatred comes down to the impact of the self. A 28-year-old conservative resident of Kansas City said, "Forced to wear masks for a virus that killed less than 10,000 people, I am more likely to be murdered in Kansas City than catch COVID there." A 70-year-old woman claimed, "Being forced to wear a completely useless mask when going into businesses. I have bad allergies and can’t breathe well. The CDC has reported that the masks are useless, which to me indicates they are virtue signaling items and are being used to control people.” Of course, the CDC has said otherwise to this person's assertions about masks and safety.
The most depressing example of how little we care about each other pertains to the funding for 9/11 responders, and it being held up on a government level. With more claims than anticipated from the first responders due to new illnesses coming to light, the additional funds needed were just sitting there. After repeatedly being attacked at the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel was heard wondering aloud why people were "all bent out of shape" on the issue. When the fund was reopened, for instance, 160 members of Congress, nearly all Republicans and including current Vice President Mike Pence, opposed it. I guess to some, "Never Forget" has an 18-year shelf life.
To be perfectly honest, I think Rush Limbaugh had the best explanation. "The history of the world is dictatorship, tyranny, subjugation, whatever you want to call it of populations — and then along came the United States of America. They led an exodus from Europe to this country, people of the same mind-set. For the first time in human history, a government and country was founded on the belief that leaders serve the population. This country was the first in history, the EXCEPTION. The exception to the rule is what American exceptionalism is." In this case, he's right.
Looking at the data and willfully ignoring it while proclaiming that America is the most educated country in the world, is definitely an exception to the rule.
When our fellow man puts their life on the line for complete strangers, then telling them that we won't pay to help them stay alive. That because of some new disease they contracted which wasn't diagnosed on the original paperwork, is also definitely an exception to the rule.
I know there are going to be people who will see everything written above and it will make their blood boil. They'll say things like "If you don't love it, then get out!" To them, I say this ...
The opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference. If you've ever been in a relationship that ended, you know that the curtain has been closed once your partner stops caring. When they stop putting up a fight and emotionally remove you from their existence, recovery is impossible. I know it's difficult for some to understand, but it's BECAUSE of this scrutiny that we show we do still care about, and love, America. If we didn't care, we would just watch and let this horror show of arrogance and hypocrisy swirl throughout Earth, because trying to convince someone otherwise who "knows the facts" is incredibly draining.
So disagree with this assessment all you want. Though, if you do, I beg of you to come up with an outstanding definition of American Exceptionalism that is impenetrable. So far everyone else is coming up with goose eggs.
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