During his European debut, a reporter in Strasbourg, France asked President Obama if he subscribes to the school of “American Exceptionalism” as did his predecessors. Being the first Black president and known as a uniter, the question weighs heavy in irony since America’s self-grandiosity is tied to military aggression and presidential legacies that are littered with unapologetic ethnic and cultural indifference. Although not a common term, African Americans should form long lines like voting to get information whenever the subject of “Exceptionalism” is mentioned.
Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville coined “Exceptionalism” in his 1835 book Democracy in America to describe the notion that America considers itself a superior and trustworthy nation that’s favored by God to play a special political, economic, religious, and military role in the world . . . Therefore, U.S. values and policies are presupposed by Americans as right and best for all nations to follow. Nothing is inherently wrong or unjust with any country espousing “Exceptionalism.” The problem and danger is when such views are pursued or imposed at the human or sovereign expense of others.
America’s brand of “Exceptionalism” took Machiavellian detours along the way for the worst. Yes, it verbally professes “Equality and Justice for All,” but at its core remains a prevailing Manifest Destiny for wealth, resources, and power that’s paved in blood and knows no bounds. Because of this duplicity, “American Exceptionalism” can only stand limited-level scrutiny before depths of contradictions and sensitivities are reached that this establishment prefers not to redress.
But all this is belied by “religious fluff” that cloaks what otherwise is inexcusable historical conduct engaged by both parties. Based on the puritanical overtones associated with its founding history and founding fathers, you would think America is spiritually incapable of human and civil rights violations that legalized enslavement and segregation to contrarily coexist with “democracy” for centuries, with impunity.
Today, the same arrogant nature of “Exceptionalism” allows America to “forgive itself” for the past and become an Evangelical arbiter that places labels of “evil” on nations with comparatively far less guilt. The U.S. government is also quick to holler “war crimes” against other nations, yet conversely doesn’t want U.S. soldiers, officials or mercenaries like Blackwater, subjected to possible prosecution for war crimes at the International Criminal Court – Even though Obama says “America does not torture.”
Politicians popularly say, “God bless America.” But it’s politically unthinkable to ever associate God with “punishment,” as did Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans who then had to apologize after Hurricane Katrina for saying, “God is mad at America . . . and doesn’t approve of Iraq.” “Exceptionalism” was also behind the denunciation of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Black Liberation Theology. (Note how the media bleeps-out the word “damn” where he says “God damn America” in his infamous sermon . . . as though it’s too unbearable to broadcast on airwaves that are already filthied with commercialized vulgarities, violence, and sexual content).
Protestant theologies stem from yearnings within groups to relate and appeal to God to address their specific hardships. The only difference between Black Liberation Theology and any other “Protestant” theology, like Lutheranism or Methodism, is that the “Protest” is directed against flagrances of America as opposed to the Catholic Church or British Crown. So of course, according to “Exceptionalism,” Rev. Wright and Black Liberation Theology must be discredited in the mainstream. This establishment will not sit silent and watch a Black president relate or appeal to God in ways that deem them transgressors. They’ve studied Aristotle well-enough at think tanks and Ivy institutions to know that a government must always give appearances of “uncommon devotion to religion” so that “subjects do less easily move against” it.
All in all, “Exceptionalism” has thrived ever since their formative years when Euro-Americans were considered roving bands of “Rebellious Brits” who defied King George III. Although the Declaration of Independence and Constitution clearly weren’t intended to apply to Black people, the same political elements of “Exceptionalism” that assured our past exclusion are now actively revising history right before our very eyes, by propagating Obama’s presidency as the long-awaited ethnic fulfillment of the founder’s “real” intents of democracy and equality.
Being a great idealist and well-schooled articulator of universal aspirations, Obama admitted America was “imperfect,” but he smoothed-over the question as though “Exceptionalism” only applies to America’s greatness, and as though his predecessors were all as race-neutral as he. Like his predecessors however his job is to defend America; deviances against us included. Even a Black president doesn’t alter the reality that we as Africans have integrated into an already-sovereign European society . . . And because of the hypnotic sways of this thing called “American Exceptionalism” we find ourselves paying tribute to heroes, holidays, and history that otherwise would make no political or logical sense.
This article was culled in part from Ezrah Aharone’s 2009 book, Sovereign Evolution (Chapter 4: “The Cloak of Exceptionalism”). He is also the author of Pawned Sovereignty and a founding member of the Center for Sovereignty Advancement. He can be reached at Ezrah@theCSA.org.