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American And British Exceptionalism In The Age Of Trump And Brexit

Renegade Cut is rapidly becoming one of my favourite YouTube channels for its commentary on the modern crossover between politics and culture. Specifically, popular culture. A recent video includes these observations on the issue of “American exceptionalism” which could be equally applied to another ostensibly white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and English-speaking union that believes itself to be unique by virtue of history and nationality, and which is also undergoing a wave of populist sentiment:

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is not only different from the rest of the world but uniquely positioned to lead the world.

Exceptionalism states that the US follows of path of history different from the laws and norms that govern other countries.

American exceptionalism is the belief that the US is not only bigger and more powerful than other nations but that it due to its uniqueness, it need not follow said laws and norms.

When the US violates the borders of another nation and strikes it with a drone, this is unquestioned among Americans due to American exceptionalism. We are “allowed” to do this. If the same nation struck ours with a drone, they are not “allowed” to do this. Who do they think they are? AMERICA?

That’s terrorism when they do it.

The US allows itself to do this because it sees itself as the standard bearer of liberty, freedom, democracy, “western civilization.”

The concept of exceptionalism became more and more linked to global US military and political hegemony. No matter of how much income inequality and other issues make “exceptionalism” seem hollow, the US can rely on their military to enforce this idea that the US can do as it pleases – by force.

American exceptionalism should not be confused with “patriotism,” as patriotism is understood, by definition, to be internal to the people of a nation. Patriotism is the belief or feeling among citizens of a nation that said citizens should support and praise their country.

American exceptionalism is the belief that the world should support and praise America and that the world owes a debt to America and that the world should aspire to be more like America.

Every nation has patriots, the people who root for the home team. But Patriotism is internal to a nation. American exceptionalism is both internal and contains an expectation that it should be external.

President Obama once said maybe other nations might believe they are “exceptional” too, so what’s the harm in America’s rhetoric about this? No, that’s patriotism, not exceptionalism. Patriotism is a feeling whereas exceptionalism is both theory and practice.

The US practices its exceptionalism through its military on the world stage whereas most other nations don’t or can’t. There is a difference between saying “I love my nation” and saying “My nation has been chosen – perhaps divinely – to lead the world by any means necessary.”

US politicians try not to use the words “supremacy” or “superiority” when referring to where they believe the nation is on the global stage because such words have historical negative connotations.

When people profess that some group of people is superior, the first question to be asked should always be: is this belief in superiority common to people outside this group? Is this a widely held belief, or is this a belief that the group is inherently “better” held predominantly within the group?

White supremacists believe that white people are inherently “better” than many other racial identities, but it is obviously not a widely held belief among black people, among South Asian people, et cetera. It is a cultural belief, a colloquial value that is unquestioned only within the group.

Similarly, American exceptionalism is not fact or a universal value, but believers in American exceptionalism practice it as if it were. When America invades another nation and American politicians claim that they will be greeted as liberators, this is an example of two aspects of American exceptionalism. The invasion itself and the belief in how the invasion will be received. The former, the invasion, is a byproduct of the idea that Americans have both the right and duty to invade other nations.

The latter, the idea America will be greeted as a liberator, comes from the mistaken belief that American exceptionalism is a universal value instead of what it is: a cultural value almost exclusively among only one group.


4 comments on “American And British Exceptionalism In The Age Of Trump And Brexit

  1. GCHQ in the UK are recruiting trolls “We are looking to recruit individuals who can contribute to a step change in the UK’s ability to project cyber power against our adversaries, in order to keep the UK safe. You will be at the forefront of the nation’s covert online capability. We want people who can help support and run operations that disrupt and degrade our adversaries’ ability to do us harm, and contest malign activity in cyber space.” looking at some recent comments it looks like they have already hired them.


  2. The original meaning of the term “American Exceptionalism” started in the 1920’s, with claims from The Left and some political scientists saying “The usual Laws of Marxism simply don’t work in the US.” Which is basically just a case of a relatively rich and powerful country (as opposed to a small poor one) saying “Look The US just has a different historical and social context than Europe.”

    And really that wasn’t unreasonable in and of itself.

    Later it came to mean “relative immunity to communism and fascism” due to historical, economic, political, and geographic conditions.

    Now the debate can apply to any number of issues such as healthcare, public transit, and more with the exceptionalists saying “European solutions just don’t work in The United States” with anti-exceptionalists opposing that view.

    Even in an arena like public transit “exceptionalists” vs. “anti-exceptionalists” could be a debate about whether or not European style subways or light rails can actually work in the US, or whether we simply need an entirely different model for public transit.

    Far from being some inherently sense of superiority many people who believe in “American Excpetionalism” may sorely wish for things from European style socialist parties, to an NHS style health system to European standards of public transit in the US……but with a heavy heart conclude that it will simply never happen.

    My personal belief is that the reality is somewhere in the middle.

    ****Indeed more European standards of public transit ARE starting to happen in some cities and building new systems is pretty fast and furious right now despite Trump and the Koch brothers. Whether these “traditional European solutions” will be the full answer in either Europe or the US is the real question.


  3. Reblogged this on rebelbreeze and commented:
    There is definitely a brand of US exceptionalism that assumes superiority and entitlement to invade, blockade, embargo and infiltrate other countries. This is not incompatible with a feeling of historical or cultural inferiority with respect to some European states, just as arrogant, bullying and domineering behaviour of an individual is far from incompatible with the same individual’s sense of inferiority.


    • In some respects there are parallels to the whole Slavophile/Zapadnik thing Russia. Although I’d argue even that dynamic is vastly more pronounced in The South than the rest of The Country. Then again the South has always been much more hawkish and has always had a more tortured history thanks to slavery, Civil War, Jim Crow-Civil Rights, hook worms, poverty and more…….In some ways Northern Ireland and The South are strikingly similar.

      I’d argue that post-WW2 interventionism basically had two phases. At first it was about the whole “contain Communism” thing. After Vietnam it turned more into a Weimar like “Dolchostoss-like” rumor. However, even compared to Germany the American version actually put fairly little emphasis on “national pride” and a lot more emphasis on “well protestors are awful people because they spat on returning troops.”

      I’d argue these sorts of issues are in fact far from unique to The US, and have more in common with German, Mexican, or French forms of nationalism than British ones in some ways.


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