A Nation in Denial Exceptional?

I keep thinking about the concept of “American exceptionalism” and the reality of the rampant bigotry, hatred and violence in this nation, and how a nation cannot be “exceptional” if such violence is part of the thumbprint of its existence.

Somewhere, in spite of this nation being “the most religious” of all nations ( I read that somewhere), something has been lost – and that is the Christian and indeed, religious concept that believing in God means that people love each other.

It is just amazing that so much violence is carried out by religious people. Pat Robertson made the claim that recent shooting in Wisconsin at the Sikh Temple there happened because “atheists hate God.” He was making an assumption that the accused shooter, Wade Michael Page, was atheist.

There was no evidence of Page being an atheist as of this writing. In fact, it’s been reported that he was part of a white supremacist group and had predicted a racial war. White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, have a history of being religious, Christian, to be exact. So Robertsons’s claim seems a bit off…

But here we are again, a white male gone mad, using a gun to express his anger and shooting people at random, in spite of God. Page used a 9 mm gun and was able to purchase ammunition, in spite of having been under observation by the Feds since 2000.

While the tragic shooting in Aurora did not seem to be based on hatred or bigotry, the Sikh Temple shooting seemed to be a part of the tradition of American violence based on bigotry. Page apparently did not like people of the Sikh community, so, he aimed to destroy at least some of them.

American exceptionalism, right?

Stephen Prothero, a professor of history and scholar, wrote an engaging piece on CNN.com about the American propensity for violence based on bigotry. (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/07/an-american-tradition-of-bigotry/?hpt=hp_t2).  The article says it all…

It says it all except my point that a nation cannot be exceptional, if exceptional means that that nation is better than others, if it has such a deep culture of bigotry, and a culture that stubbornly refuses to at least tighten up gun laws so that people who are prone to violence because of their bigotry cannot destroy scores of people at will.

We already imprison more people than any other civilized nation. In an article which appeared in The New Yorker in January of this year, author Adam Gopnik wrote: The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.” ( http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120130crat_atlarge_gopnik#ixzz22tcoTEO)

That our high incarceration rate is based largely on the “war on drugs” according to Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow,’ and that many of those incarcerated are African-American men says something about the yet-to-be-healed bigotry against black people in America.

And that these mass murders keep happening, carried out too many times by angry white men, says something about our culture which has seen the problem over and over, but has refused to really deal with it in any meaningful way. We seem more interested in protecting the right of people to own guns than we are interested in finding out why “angry white men” is such a reality in America.

I am afraid that, though I love America, I cannot buy into the “American exceptionalism” mantra. We seem rather to be a culture of denial, and that reality is really eroding at the possibility of us being exceptional at all.

A candid observation …

6 thoughts on “A Nation in Denial Exceptional?

  1. Wonderful, sage observation! The whole notion of American Exceptionalism takes me back to a scene from the HBO movie, “The Tuskegee Airman,” based on the first group of black military pilots during World War II.

    The scene depicts the black commander of the ‘colored pilots’ who were based in Italy. A racist, white U.S. Senator wanted to disband the unit of, as he called it, “Nigga’ fliers,” based on a laundry list of ridiculous, and bigoted claims. The commander, based on the real-life Colonel Benjamin O. Davis {played by actor Courtney B. Vance}, explains during a senate hearing in Washington that his pilots have excelled within the limitations of a segregated U.S. military.

    He goes on to explain that every one of his troops went their own “private hell” to get that wing insignia on their uniforms that designates them as Army pilots. And he told the senators that each black flier, aside from his own personal expectations, carries on his shoulders the weight of “the hopes and dreams of an entire people.”

    Colonel Davis concludes his ‘fictional’ remarks with this: “Beneath it all, I was brought up to believe that, (despite the expressions of racism, bigotry and discrimination), the American people had a deep, abiding sense of fairness. Those cheers I heard when (boxer) Joe Louis defeated Max Schmeling and Hitler’s ‘master race,’ weren’t just coming from proud colored folks, they were coming from ALL Americans! How do I feel about my country? How does my country feel about me? There is no greater conflict within me.”

    That last line seems to capture and crystallize my own inner turmoil about my native land. I’ve served my country honorably and with distinction in the military, worked as a civilian journalist from coast to coast, trying reveal truth, to inform and enlighten, to be supportive and uplifting of all regardless of color, gender or creed. And yet, I’ve seen, read about, or heard of much hatred, racism and bigotry in this nation based on religion, color, gender, class and sexual orientation.

    As deeply as I love America….I loathe aspects of her past, and her present.

    American Exceptionalism? I’m still struggling mightily trying to put my arms completely around that term!!!

    1. Thank you for this amazing comment! The comment that the fictional Benjamin O Davis makes that you quote sends chills up my spine: “How does my country feel about me?” That says it all.

      I have struggled with that term, “American exceptionalism” since I first heard it…and the thing is, in the American political world, you are damned if you even hint you question the possibility of it not being so true or applicable.

      Thank you again for this comment. It is one of the best I’ve ever gotten!

  2. America is a nation in denial indeed. Yes, America is has progressed farther than many other nations. But exceptional? Superior? I think not.

  3. I happened across this and this is so poignant for the current events. I am going to post this on my facebook page. Thank you for this. And I am feeling ambivelant about my country that I served and having anxiety for my four sons and three grandsons.

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