This started as a reply to an acquaintance’s Facebook post, but fuck giving Facebook the fruits of my labor to mine for free.
Having not yet read the piece linked from the post and responding only to the single posted sentence - “I think the Trump era marks the end of American exceptionalism.”:
Fuck ‘American exceptionalism’. It’s just a dressing up of “God’s Mandate” aka “the divine right of kings” in the clothing of American patriotism but it never loses the faux gold of the peasant who pretends to be King and it is weird for such a deliberately conceived anti-monarchy, supposedly egalitarian (s/o to the three-fifths compromise yo! …asshats) idea as The United States of America to continue to embody such an ambition.
Except it’s not weird because ’everyone’ wants to be a rich person of power. The impulse to be comfortable and in control is deep in the human gene seed and dealing with the downsides of that is a continuous act of conscious awareness that we need to teach more, longer, and harder (hey, sex sells, is what I’m saying. Let’s get marketing on the crossover message here).
So, let’s work to get rid of the notion that Americans are inherently better because of the way the nation was founded. We inherited some cool guidelines we often fuck up adhering to (THREE-FIFTHS COMPROMISE. THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT. ETC..). Becoming an American citizen by birth or naturalization (A hearty welcome, new Citizen!) by no means imbues anyone with these good qualities the Founders debated with all of their education and privilege and still left us with the founding and enduring sin of slavery. Not, actually, that exceptional as this kind of idea of greater merit by simple nationalism isn’t even mildly unique to America, everyone has done it always so let’s not be boring, OK?
But there’s beautifully aspirational language in the founding documents. This is one of my favorites:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
What if they had doubled down on that in the Constitution? Maybe some will argue they did but again let’s talk about that three-fifths compromise and add that the Bill of Rights - the first 10 Amendments - was the first production patch to the Constitution and followed on immediately after its FCS.
- ‘All men are created equal’ - why not ‘persons’ and let’s make sure we mean actually all humans? They could have done that. We can STILL do that.
- ‘unalienable Rights, that among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ - There. It should be unConstitutional to pass any law or take any government action that infringes on the Life, Liberty, or Happiness of anyone, right? Why isn’t it? Well, this bit is wildly aspirational language they were putting in to invigorate their Cause with Noble Passions or some such and as a practical matter is going immediately have to grapple with very thorny issues across demesnes of judicial, legislative, and criminal justice just for starters. Conversations that would evolve as …
- ‘whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government’- … things change and Government should adapt to those times. Look, if you’re establishing what you hope will be a very long-lasting nation, you are an idiot if you don’t try to account for the fact that the future is unknowable and the folks discussing and writing these documents were mostly not idiots, three-fifths compromise aside (they must have known there was going to be a war over that someday, yeah? I’d say I’m surprised it took most of another hundred years to have that war, but I’m not because racism. Fucking racism.) So the point here is that textualism is fucking stupid, let’s be clear on that.
So my point is, we plainly knew what we should have done, didn’t do it, and some of us are still trying to do it and as of this writing 47.7% of 146,361,058 citizens voted for Trump in the 2020 Presidential election and no one can do that and then stand on any leg of believing in unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all of us, who are natively equal.
As a nation we are not and never have been exceptional. Not for all our accomplishments, not in spite of our many ills and failures.
But we should always be trying to be. Harder.