Letters to the Editor
International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, January 16, 2001
by Patrick D. Hazard
Regarding “Mr. Bush, the World Doesn’t Want to Be American” (Opinion, Dec. 30) by Mikhail Gorbachev:
Amen, Mr. Gorbachev. The greatest danger facing a Bush administration’s managing of our future is the American doctrine of exceptionalism.
It began in the 17th Century with our Puritan divines’ absurd hubris that God had saved the New Continent so that He could have a covenant with them. Back in the days when the new Americans still had a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” this had not yet morphed into Manifest Destiny, a secular compact with the same convenient God, although President Thomas Jefferson gave it impetus with his Louisiana Purchase and President James Knox Polk pushed it along mightily with the conquest of Texas and related Southwest properties.
In the Banana Republic phase, indecently rationalized as the “white man’s burden” of Christianizing what President William Howard Taft called “our poor brown brethren”—those Filipinos who had already been Catholicized by the conquistadors—we fronted for United Fruit et alia with Marines and support for corrupt oligarchies.
American exceptionalism means we do not have to pay United Nations dues, join land mine treaties or reduce our huge contributions to the greenhouse effects because we’re God’s gift to globalization. Mr. Gorbachev wisely warns us that this inflated image of our own realities at home will endanger our own civil peace if current trends are not reversed.
Our skulls have become so numbed by material abundance that we do not even realize that our visionaries—Thoreau, Whitman, William James, Millard Fuller—have warned us how dangerous our self-absorption is not only to ourselves but to the rest of the world. It is ironic that we have to learn such simple truths from our former adversary in the Cold War.