What is American Exceptionalism, anyway?

Originally published at: What is American Exceptionalism, anyway? | Boing Boing


Indeed. Bummer though that such a recognition of indigeneity appears only in the very last line of a very long post. :confused:


I think it means that we take exception to so many obviously true things.


You wanna know what American Exceptionalism is?! No?! Well, I’m gonna tell ya anyway! American Exceptionalism is the best Exceptionalism in the world! Fuck! America, A#1!

Of course, the guy in that gif is actually exceptional. :sunglasses::+1:


Ice Cube Friday GIF by HBO Max

That’s probably the best definition I’ve heard yet!


As far as I can see, American Exceptionalism has two parts.

  1. America and everything about America is the best in the world.

  2. If anything about another country appears to be better, that’s an illusion and anyway it won’t work in America because [reasons, usually Freedom™ and/or Capitalism].


It’s goddam tedious, is what it is.


Not that I can keep up with the great minds shaping American Exceptionalism (Gingrich & Chomsky), but I’d like to throw a couple of ideas out there:

America is setting up to be that actual City on a Hill over the next half-century. We are not only going to survive the coming bad times, but we are actually going to flourish. As the rest of the world languishes in the throes of Global Warming, our infrastructure is going to fare well, and our manufacturing and agricultural sector is going to make us self-sufficient and sustainable. While the best and brightest will continue to strive to come here, we can only grow stronger, more resilient, and more of an example for the rest of the planet.

Yes, I get it: a lot of the rest of the world’s problems are a direct result of our actions as a nation. And our history… sheesh! We also have serious problems: racism, guns, and wealth inequality. But here’s the kicker: history shows that native genocide failed; white supremacy failed. They are still scary, but our victory over those forces of evil illuminates our exceptionalism, not eclipses it. As Valerie Kaur says, “this darkness can be the darkness of the tomb, or the darkness of the womb.”

I implore us to fight against those who would use American Exceptionalism to deny their losses to history. This exceptionalism is something our ancestors—we—earned. Our blood paid for it. I ask you to hold it dear, and keep it shining. We can, to paraphrase Cory Doctorow—we can give birth to a better nation.


Kenan Thompson Snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

Genocide and enslavement pretty much negates that.

How about instead of trying to be exceptional, we work together with the rest of the world to try and improve things. Nationalism has never proven helpful beyond liberation movements, and even then they can turn into violent oppression.


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA… oh wait, you were serious?


Okay look, that was mean of me. I am less sanguine than you about our ability to weather, even flourish through climate change, but that doesn’t mean I should be a d*ck. Here are just a few of the infrastructure challenges I see facing the country right now:

  • The American west has been suffering under drought conditions for two decades. During that drought, the Colorado river has been a lifeline for seven states, but it is shrinking in the changing climate. Choices have to be made about the management of the Colorado river that will exacerbate drought conditions and have serious ramifications for farming, electricity generation and personal water use in all the states along the waterway. Already there are whole communities and Arizona and California that truck in their water at huge expense. Also note that the impacts to indigenous communities in the region are particularly severe but are seldom factored into usage plans.
  • The foundation of the US electrical grid was built in the 1800s; it’s beginning to fail because of climate change and the extreme weather that goes with it. Lack of a national or regional strategy is an impediment to improvement, but many states refuse to address obvious issues because of the political dynamics around climate policy. Resistance to grid modernization makes it difficult to bring renewable energy sources online, so we stay reliant on carbon-heavy forms of generation even as we reap the rewards of that addiction.
  • Like our electrical grid, our roads, bridges, and railways are also aging (20% in need of repair nationally, though it varies state to state). In the case of railways, we’re actually moving backward with the Trump administration repealing Obama era rules mandating derailment prevention technology. Ask the people of East Palestine, Ohio how that ends.

These aren’t insurmountable problems, just very difficult ones. Solving them requires cooperation, compromise, and belief in a shared conceptual framework. The US is deficient in those areas right now and I don’t see a more optimistic trend developing any time soon. I’ll cross my fingers and hope to be wrong though.


We’re very fortunate that climate respects borders.


Clearly, we just need to build big enough walls to keep the riff-raff out, and that will help keep the good weather in! Problem solved!

Winter Is Coming Hbo GIF by Game of Thrones


What the heck, I’ll argue “for.” The last bit of this article makes the argument for me. “when I got into college, I took an African American history course. And I started realizing that the actual pledge doesn’t apply to a lot of our citizens. It hasn’t met the dream of being exceptional.”

Right. Our nation does not live up to its utopian ideals, never will reach perfection, and this person learned all about it from our institutions. But those ideals are special and we have created a democracy that is constantly moving toward the hill. We are willing to hold the flaws up to the light and demand we all do better. Every day, more people have the blessings of the American opportunity.

We also know that being an American (U.S.A-ian?) is a state of mind, not an ethnicity. Adopting our ideals creates us, not our ethnicity. No, that is not unique to the U.S.A. but it is important.

Is it better or superior? It would be arrogant of me to assert it but people seem to be voting with their feet. That is also our strength and why the demographic time-bombs in so many other countries don’t threaten us.

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We’re going to need a bigger dome!

Or go full moleman.


You dropped this.



high quality GIF

That’s the whole point of American exceptionalism, though. That we are special. Now, people like Chomsky argue that America is exceptional in it’s violence, imperialism, etc, and I don’t think I agree with that either.

We are an empire and a country like ANY other - we’ve made horrible choices over the course of our history, offered some good things for the world, and we’ve been powerful for a while, but not for as long as many, many other empires and certainly not without some very real violence to undercut much of what we do offer the world. Those are just the facts of history. Pretending like we’re someone out time or history, and we should just keep doing this is… well, it’s silly. And a clear perspective on the past and on the history of empire will show us that we need a better path forward.

We can’t change the fact that the US played a role in creating this current environment, but we can think a bit more pro-actively about how we deal with globalization, the nation-state, and our collective future. Like it or not, we have to move past this “aMeRic4 iZ t3h BesT” mindset and try and figure out shared solutions that benefit all of humanity, or we’re ALL fucked. Nationalism is a deadend for humanity, and no “special” kind of nationalism is gonna change that.


Lots of citizens of the USA are looking to develop options to bug out as the country becomes more fascist. Particularly from targeted communities.


Yep. We may be good on some things and terrible on others.

But the trend isn’t encouraging lately.


Yep, and of course people come here because it’s often better than the alternative at home, and it’s more accessible than other places (Canada or Europe).

And things lately have moved from a path of slow (stupidly slow!) improvement on our history of violent oppression, to in some places, moving backwards to that kind of oppression. We have to deal with what’s actually happening in front of us, rather than pretending like some idealized version of America exists when it most certainly does not. I doubt that leaning into dangerous and ahistorical ideas of exceptionalism will do anything at all to fix all of our systemic problems.

Speak Black Woman GIF by Robert E Blackmon


America right now is in a bitter fight over whether it believes in doing anything about global warming, maintaining infrastructure, and providing any support for manufacturing and agriculture, versus letting rich bastards suck the life from everything.

I really hope the second don’t win. Right now talking about the country’s future as if they aren’t important, though, is like talking about Chernobyl without noting there’s radiation.