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The Ugly Myth of U.S. Exceptionalism

By Robert Fantina - Posted on 04 May 2015

      For inexplicable reasons, the United States citizenry clings to the idea of 'exceptionalism', that heady concept that says that the U.S. is different from and better than all the rest of the world, and therefore has a sacred obligation to spread its goodness around the globe. In 2014, President Barack Obama said this: "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being."

     During the two campaigns of former President George Bush, it was noted more than once that Republicans and facts had long been estranged, and there did not seem to be any hope of reconciliation. This writer does not dispute that, but is puzzled as to why this concept is only applied to the GOP (Generally Opposed to Progress). The Democrats are just as happy, it seems to him, to gloss over, twist, or simply ignore facts that don't coincide with their particular world view. And, to be fair, he doubts that Independents are immune to this allergy to reality.

     Let us attempt to overcome this malady, at least momentarily, and look at some of the facts of 'the land of the free and the home of the brave'.

* It is estimated that at least 22% of children in the U.S. live in poverty. So while the government expends more than half of its discretionary money to feed the ravenous military monster, nearly a quarter of the nation's children barely have enough food. The National Center for Children in Poverty advises that "Poverty can impede children's ability to learn and (can) contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor (physical) health and mental health".

* In an average year, approximately 3,500,000 people in the U.S. experience homelessness, and a significant number are veterans. A survey taken on a single night in January of 2013 indicated that there were 52,849 homeless veterans in the U.S.  Referring again to the U.S. war machine, it seems the government isn't hard-pressed to send men and women to war, but caring for them after they've done the government's dirty work isn't a consideration.

* Educational achievement is low. A 2013 survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found the U.S. ranking twenty-sixth in math out of thirty-four countries surveyed. The study also found that the U.S. ranked fifth in spending on education, so it doesn't seem to be getting its money's worth. Another study of academics, published by 'Ranking America', lists the U.S. as fourteenth out of forty countries.

* Infrastructure is inferior. The website of The American Society of Engineers states the following: "The American Society of Engineers is committed to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public, and as such, is equally committed to improving the nation's public infrastructure. To achieve that goal, the report card depicts the condition and performance of the nation's infrastructure in the familiar form of a school report card - assigning letter grades that are based on physical condition and needed investments for improvement". The grade assigned to the U.S. infrastructure: D+.

* In a Forbes survey of 2014 of 'The World's Most Reputable Countries', the U.S. ranked twenty-second out of fifty-five, just ahead of the Czech Republic, and right behind Brazil.

* In terms of infant mortality, out of 221 countries rated, the U.S. ranks forty-fifth, with 6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

* While children live in poverty, a significant amount of the population is homeless, and the infrastructure is falling apart, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next eight largest spenders combined. It has used that military in the last 60 years to invade, overthrow or destabilize, or attempt to do so, no less than 24 countries. This list includes the following:

- Syria: 1949, 2011- present.

- Iran: 1953

- Guatemala: 1954

- Tibet: 1955

- Indonesia: 1958

- Cuba: 1959

- Democratic Republic of the Congo: 1960 - 1965

- South Vietnam: 1963

- Brazil: 1964

- Ghana: 1966

- Chile: 1970 - 1973

- Afghanistan: 1979 - 1989

- Turkey: 1980

- Poland: 1980 - 1981

- Nicaragua: 1981 - 1990

- Cambodia: 1980

- Angola: 1980s

- Philippines: 1986

- Iraq: 1992 - 1996

- Venezuela: 2002

- Palestinian Authority: 2006 - Present

- Somalia: 2006 - 2007

- Iran: 2005 - present

- Libya: 2011

- Syria: 2012

     So while the U.S. lumbers across the globe, attempting to arrange nations to its liking, its own citizens are suffering. But what is that, when one lives in the land of exceptionalism?

     In a 2014 post, Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, the Independent Institute, said this: "Citizens of the United States often believe that the U.S. military is fighting overseas to advance their freedom and that of other peoples everywhere. In reality, the United States behaves like other nations, for instance like Russia, usually taking military action to advance its military, political, economic, or diplomatic interests". He further said that those who recognize the truth of this "...have a problem when selling such Machiavellian policies to the idealistic American people".

     So one must ask just what it is that makes so many U.S. citizens become teary-eyed at the sight of the flag waving in the breeze, or at the sound of the national anthem? Could it be their fondness of for-profit prisons, the corporate owners of which lobby for stricter sentencing, which has helped the U.S. achieve the dubious distinction of having the highest number of people per capita in prison? Could it be a sense of pride as they watch advanced U.S. weaponry killing Palestinian men, women and children? Could it be their freedom to walk through several streets of many major U.S. cities without seeing any homeless people, because those people have either been chased away by the police or arrested? Maybe it is the excellent justice system, which ensures that there will be judicial fairness for everyone, except the poor and people of color, of course. Perhaps it is state-of-the-art health care, available to everyone as long as they are wealthy.

     As the U.S. enters another long, difficult and tiresome presidential campaign season, we can be sure of hearing more and more about U.S. exceptionalism, with each candidate accusing the others of not believing it strongly enough. Oh, for a candidate to say that the U.S. is simply working for the economic and political benefit of the rich, the needs of the people be damned! But no, the candidates must play their established roles, presenting themselves as the saviors of the common man (the GOP, at least, isn't much interested in saving the common woman), holding aloft the bright colors of the flag, representing, they will proclaim, the hope and honor of the U.S. And from coast to coast, the gullible will buy it, vote for a candidate purchased by the corporate world, and maintain business as usual in the U.S.

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