15 December 2010 Exceptional buys you a ride on the short bus.
Thanks to Signe Wilkinson for reminding us that the manifest destiny may well have peaked here and moved elsewhere.
The idea of a nation stretching from Atlantic to Pacific coasts gave rise to the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.”
That term was first used by John L. O’Sullivan to promote the annexation of the Republic of Texas. O'Sullivan's second use of the phrase became extremely influential. On December 27, 1845 in his newspaper the New York Morning News, O'Sullivan addressed the ongoing boundary dispute with the United Kingdom in the Oregon Country. O'Sullivan argued that the United States had the right to claim "the whole of Oregon":
“And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us”
Historian William E. Weeks has noted that three key themes were usually touched upon by advocates of Manifest Destiny:
1. the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
2. the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the U.S.; and
3. the destiny under God to accomplish this work.
While the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of Mexican-claimed territory in the American southwest gave us the land that became the 48 contiguous states, the physical possession of the land conveyed no real moral compass for the U.S, to adopt in establishing our nation’s presence among the great powers of the world.
In terms of land possessions, Canada owns more territory than does the U.S, and also stretches from coast to coast, owes its origin to the greed of English and French merchants, and governments in need of cash to pursue European interests. Brazil has more land mass than does the U.S, and is ascending from third world status to become a great economic power. Russian territorial holdings are immense, spanning 11 time zones. None of these nations appears to have any interest in forcing their economic or cultural model upon other nations. One can note that Russia still seems unwilling to allow its bits of the Islamic world to depart from what was once the USSR. Neither does the U.S. plan to allow Puerto Rico to select becoming yet one more banana republic shaped by Catholicism and Spanish lust for gold and souls.
What was wrong about the doctrine then and what remains so today is the concept of divinely appointed destiny residing in the United States to the exclusion of all other nations.
To this point in history, France, Spain, Great Britain, and perhaps even Portugal, China, Japan, Germany and Russia have had a greater impact of the world than the United States. In terms of longevity France, Great Britain, Spain, and Russia outrank the U.S, In terms of culture, Great Britain has provided the world’s language for business, aviation, and science. Legal and judicial systems around the world derive from British models, including our own.
The truly major thing proposed by the U. S. is resident in our Constitution and Bill of Rights – particularly the 1st Amendment. Excluding religion from participation in government, and government from declaring a state religion is, to date, our finest contribution to the world’s culture.
Now, because religion has become a means of developing a voter base, many of our citizens are doing their best to undo the 1st Amendment’s barriers to theocracy. We’ve allowed pseudo-patriotism to unite with pseudo-religion in an attempt to create a theocracy and overturn the best contribution the U.S, has made to the world.
American exceptionalism is a joke, jingoism wrapped in sports franchises and bible-thumping bigotry. Neither the size of our land mass nor our reserve of raw materials make us unique. Certainly, our educational system is nothing to brag about. There was a period of time when we needed the best minds we could find to look for new and better ideas in physics, medicine, chemistry, geology, and the other hard sciences and disciplines. We wanted them for self-preservation, for developing new and more powerful ships, aircraft, rockets, weapons, and for building a space station to springboard our search of the universe. We can’t claim superiority in health care anymore, our means of production have been eclipsed, our factories and our workers sold out by the one industry in which we perhaps still retain a lead – corporate greed.
When I listen to a poorly educated liar like Beck or Palin scream about “America’s exceptionalism” it could just as well be that they are trying to incite fans at a ball game or elicit today’s “Christians” to be “reborn.” They bring the same lack of knowledge, the same bigotry, and the same disdain for education to everything they oppose.
America, the political experiment, the nation that supplied Europe with weapons to defeat the Nazis while winning the war in the Pacific and developing the atom bomb, deserves better than to be represented by idiots chanting, “We’re number one!” It deserves better than to have its political parties seek out the un-educated, the religious intolerant, the bigoted and xenophobic to pack the polls on election days.
America, after WWII, for a while, was “number one.” We had the world’s largest navy, the best submarines. We had the best rocket scientists, the best engineers, and the best potential of any nation on the planet. Like getting to the moon and back, like developing new medications and new diagnostic and treatment tools, like being happily married, being “number one” requires lots of effort, determination, and work. Somewhere around 1980, we lost sight of that. We became willing to settle for second best if it had a designer label on it. We lost sight of the fact that restrictive theology based upon exclusionary tribalism has no place in education of in government. We began to ignore the hard work that is science, physics, engineering for the easy path to greed that led to the decline all nations risk.
“We’re number one!” echoes loudly at every commercial sports franchise event. The fans wear the “local team” colors, swill beer, and behave boorishly. When something requires their attention, a national interest in something such as foreign policy, education, military misadventures, they chant just as loudly, wave their misspelled signs and remind us how much our educational system has lost. We try to trade camp-meeting fervor for years of hard academic preparation, for truth in political speeches. But the stadium is empty most of the time. “We’re number one is no longer true. It’s another example of what happens when greed and stupidity are held up as good examples. Listen to the echoes. “We were number one.” We were, but those days are gone. Like the promises of jobs, like the promise of well-educated men and women working hard to maintain their skills and to increase their personal store of knowledge, like health care for all citizens, the echoes sound horribly hollow, rather like those echoes in the Flavian Amphitheater.