Once upon a time, there was a country that was exceptional. It was exceptional in all things, according to its politicians. And thus there could be no discussion of any way in which it did not achieve exceptional status, either in the past or in the present. To do so would be signing your own death warrant as a politician.
At one time, the statement was true. Immense common sacrifice made the contribution of this nation possible in the early 1940’s, allowing it to emerge from the second world war with its production capacity intact, and its people supercharged through education as they returned to this nation after their overseas tours of duty. But in the decades following this common experience, more and more of the people came to expect fealty from other nations as our due, since we were so exceptional once.
So now we find it impossible to demand common sacrifice. Indeed, we abhor the concept of sacrifice, and expect all our desires to be fulfilled in real time with no delays, and at the lowest cost possible. So now, when confronted by nature and the vagaries of the natural world, we expect scientists to have the final answer to the pandemic as soon as it emerges. Once the scientists admit doubt, or change their story based upon new learnings, the scientists become an object of scorn and ridicule. Why listen to them when we have our politicians telling us we don’t need to sacrifice in order to defeat a measly virus.
Of course, all of the supply chains constructed over decades which required continuous operation of each piece integrated with its downstream steps, became disrupted once any piece of the chain failed to deliver its cargo in a timely manner. Thus we found ourselves facing shortages, and increase in prices. But that would imply sacrifice! We cannot have that! We want it, and we want it now. In many ways, we are behaving like our cats who have no concept of patience. Here is the cat haiku:
Feed me, feed me now.
Feed me, feed me, feed me now.
Why are you so slow?
So we blame the current generation of politicians in charge, forgetting how abysmal the previous generation was. Since we now face shortages, heads must roll. Indeed, we must put the previous party back in power, and forget about the disastrous administration of the past. We must be an exceptional people, since we retain no memory of the past.
And now it is a necessity to prevent the youth of today from having any chance to learn about mistakes of the past. No, the only need is to call up the mythology of John Wayne to learn about the settling of the west. And of course, since we elected our first non-Caucasian president, we no longer have to deal with the sins of racism. All that is past. Never mind that the political and economic structures of this nation still reflect the infection of racism coursing through our bloodstreams.
Of course, we smile as we witness the fulfillment of our desires coming to pass. All concepts of sexual equality go by the wayside as we ponder a future without any opportunity for abortion. And we smile as we see the logical completion of the effort to liberate guns as yet another young man finds his fulfillment in using his newly acquired weapons of war to take the lives of so many innocent children.
Exceptional! We cling to our exceptional status even though the world has passed us by in so many ways. We are repelled by someone not of this nation, trying to get one of the members of the US Senate to even admit we might not be exceptional in the light of the most recent school shootings. To think that anyone could conceive of the idea we in this nation are not exceptional causes our politicians to blame it all on liberal bias. Thus we decry the violence while refusing to attack any of the causes, since, you know, no solution proposed would stop all gun violence. We must insist that the pursuit of perfection negates any possibility of incremental improvement, since this would imply someone must sacrifice.
So we wallow in an imagined period of time where we were great. The imagery evoked by this slogan bring us back to the white picket fences of US suburbia, where the women knew their place, all minorities were placid and pleased with their shards of prosperity, and our nation was feared by all evil doers in the world. To imply that the world has moved beyond the shallowness of that dream is to call into question the authority our would-be leaders call upon, as they try once more to rule us all.
Clinging to the shattered remnants of the ship of prosperity, we refuse the idea of life preservers. Insisting we are more moral since we tie health care to a certain class of employment, instead of acknowledging basic health care is a human right. Reliant upon yet another poorly decided lawsuit (Heller), we refuse to adopt any legislation placing limits on weapon procurement, since someone would need to sacrifice by having their rights infringed. Allowing our primary entitlement programs to run out of money, since any solution will result in some sort of sacrifice. All of this in the name of retaining our exceptionalism, except that more and more, we can see the holes growing in our sails, threatening our ability to navigate the shoals of the sea of life. But I predict, even when our ship of state is sinking, there will be those who will cry loudly, has anyone sunk in such an exceptional manner?