I can’t forget the coincidence: the day I got my Ph.D. in American Culture in 1957, adman honcho Fairfax Cone made the headlines: Don’t worry about this recession, “America is still the All-Time Hit on Humanity’s Hit Parade!” Ugh.
This AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM began with Puritan governor John Winthrop’s metaphor of the not yet established country’s being “a City on a Hill” , setting an urbane example for the rest of mankind. Centuries later, Time-Life founder, Henry B. Luce wrote an essay for “Life” magazine on “the American Century”, early in 1941, before the Japanese threatened to end it at Pearl Harbor. Like Cone’s cri de coeur, there was not a little of wishful hoping in this run-up to our participation in World War II.
But fresh from my doctoral studies, I couldn’t forget Herman Melville’s ominous aphorism—“Nature’s Fairest Hope, marred by History’s Foulest Crime.” I had formulated my own rationale. Me thinks we protest too much! Indian genocide plus Negro slavery manifests our destiny? It was clearly a feeble rationalization of our conflicting behavior. The best I could do was to entice my fellow- citizens into the fullest possible fulfillment of our good side as I urged them, like our classic writers, to expunge our evil.
Well, “the American Century” is winding down, 1945-2045. Leaves us 33 years to close the exceptionalism gap. How’re we doing? Not very well, to judge from David S. Mason’s “The End of the American Century” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).
Mason allows that his book was not easy to write: “It is difficult chronicling the many deficiencies of something you love, and I can’t escape the fact that I do love my country, even though it often frustrates, angers and disappoints me.” p.xi. Ditto! But a social scientist lives by his numbers, as a humanist does by his judgments. And the moral and metaphysical wreck which is FoxAmerica, with Rush and Glenn pretending to be Jefferson and Adams is the real disaster.
We have always been living on exceptionally borrowed time. But the really possible point of No Return was 1980, when the unbelievably sainted Ronald Reagan, the smiley B actor who TV-shilled for General Electric with the deeply philosophical motto that “Progress is our most important product”, sent American executives who despised unions because they stood for worker’s rights to Acapulco so they could arrange for offshoring. Thereby he destroyed the middle class that FDR and Walter Reuther had weaned, turning the New America in one generation into a shabby debtors prison. Where only the unregulated zillionaire mattered.
Mason’s numbers prove the destruction. I lived that generation, getting a Ph.D. through the GI Bill and working summers in Detroit’s auto factories. “Tear down that wall” he glibly told the Russians, as his destruction of economic regulations deindustrialized America back to an Ancien Regime of a New Plutocracy and indentured credit card holders. George W. Bush consummated the self destruction.
Always living above the law, Gentleman “C” Yalie, unpunished DUI, AWOL Champagne Squadron jet fighter, serial oil bankrupt who with impunity inside traded his investors to a Texas Ranger millionaire status, and stole the 2000 election with his brother Jeb’s shenanigans. Thoughtless, he picked up on the NeoCon shtick of “spreading democracy” where it was most needed (to protect Israel!), this oaf defied the UN’s demand for consensus, and shouted “kick some ass” to start the war against the WMD.
Three months later, he added another lie to his Crawford CV by donning his AWOL flight gear on the carrier Abraham Lincoln “Mission Accomplished”! That Blackwatered War that no one has yet won, and never will in my judgment started the decline into lethal indebtedness. That and his tax relief to the zillionaires who are ruining what is left of the country with egregious bonuses and larcenous stock market innovations.
But my ire distracts me. Stick to the data Mason has assembled. There are 27 figures and three tables:
Figure 1.1 Deals with Federal Debt as a Percentage of GDP 1970=38% 2010=69% (est.)
Figure 2.3 CEO Pay as a Multiple of Average Worker Pay.2004. USA:520. France: 20. Germany: 10.
Figure 3.1 Infant Mortality Rates in Wealthy Countries,2003. USA:6.9 Sweden:3.1
Figure 3.2 Health Spending per Capita in Wealthy Countries,2003. USA $5800. UK:$2200.
Figure 3.3 Youth (ages 10-29)Homicide Rates in Industrialized Countries, late 1990s (per 100,000)Canada:1.8 USA 11.
One American exception the rest of the world resents is the U.S. refusal to sign international treaties. Bush felt he was above the law personally, so why would we expect the last and worst abstainer to sign Kyoto or the Land Mine Treaty or the International Criminal Court. Mason lists 13 such international laws we refuse to sign (p.112.) Except US, seems to be our arrogant motto. If you want our country to have an international acceptance, see what Mason says about out fatuous assumption we are above the rest of humanity!