But beginning with John Winthrop’s primary formulation in Puritan New England. Begun as a place where Church of England deviants could practice their religion free of British royal interference, those very freedom fighters rejected Roger Williams’ variant by kicking him out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A very strange way to support religious freedom! Not to forget that the same Puritans also inaugurated the suppression of the native Amerinds. An ominous foreshadowing of the equally egregious behavior of the next century—the establishment of black slavery in the cotton growing Southern states. Using a religious metaphor, you might even conclude that these were two American “original sins”. Alas, two of our beloved Founding Fathers, Washington and Jefferson, were slaveholders. Indeed, the “more thoughtful” of the two even had a black mistress! No wonder that Americans are, you might say, constitutionally confused about their moral behavior.
That moral confusion is even deeper in contemporary America: 2 million prisoners, mainly poor and too often black. Far more than any other country in the world. “Justice for all?” consider the tacky CV of George W. Bush: DUI as a teenager, unpunished; AWOL during the Vietnam War, even though ordinary citizens paid a million dollars to train him to be a pilot in the so-called Champaign Squadron (so-called, because it was designed to give the sons of the rich and powerful a pass on the real war);a serial bankrupt in the oil business in Texas, until he betrayed his investors the fourth time by insider trading, with a mere semantic SEC slap on his now rich wrist!
How could God’s America elect such a moral moron to be President? He even used his loot to become a baseball millionaire, with the City of Arlington picking up the tab for the new stadium! And our jails are now full of young blacks who sold drugs to the very suburban whites like Bush 42 who drugged with impunity! To cut brush on his spread in Crawford. How can we been complacent about such injustice. A main reason is the nefarious influence of American Exceptionalist rhetoric.
And our official injustice didn’t stop at our shores. The myth that America is not imperial is as vicious as our sad history of mistreating Indians and black slaves. As soon as trade in the Pacific grew attractive, our naval vessels brought American soldiers and entrepeneurs to eventually take over Hawaii. Mark Twain and William Dean Howells complained bitterly about the hypocrisy involved—to no avail! In the next generation after the Filipinos defeated Spain, we muscled in and beat the indigines.
Ditto, the next century with Woodrow Wilson (the Virginia racist who headed Princeton) sent the Marines into the Caribbean to rule as many of their roosts as possible! (That’s the Wilson who tried to make Europe safe for democracy, while he put our first great labor union organizer, Eugene Victor Debs, in federal prison for ten years! Why? Because he was a pacifist, like Wilson until 1917!) We blather every Fourth of July about the likes of Wilson, when he betrayed our better ideals with his belated Virginia First ideology. These tacky contradictions makes US liable to the Exceptionalist scorn of non-Americans.
If we really want to live up to our best ideals (I do!), we must purge the Exceptionalist rhetoric which has thrived because it pretended to excuse (or ignore) our Original Sins of Indian suppression and black slavery. Actually, America has had great opportunities. We have been exceptionally sinful. If we ever shape up, we could retrieve the pseudo-ideals and turn them to real idealistic behavior.
That change won’t be easy. But without positive change, we run the probable risk of disintegrating. Just look today at the travesty of our Congress. Its manifest failures mainly derive by lying to ourselves about our confused past. That is the true tragedy of a country that allows Rush Limbaugh and his ilk to be our unofficial historian. An Exceptional blunder!