President Vladimir Putin managed to unite the entire chattering class from Fox News to MS-NBC, as well as politicians from the most liberal Democrats to the farthest right Republicans in their outrage and unanimous condemnation of the Russian head of state, by uttering a simple truth on the op-ed page of the New York Times:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.
He’s right of course.
“American Exceptionalism,” in common with reactionary nationalism everywhere, insists on seeing similar sets of facts in dramatically different ways: torture, rendition, imprisonment without trial, nuclear threat, manufacturing or storing chemical weapons, extrajudicial killings, assassinations, drone strikes and the bombing of civilians—all of this and more is condemned as evil or embraced as good by the governing class and its “amen chorus” of nationalist/patriots depending on only one item: who did the deed?
“American Exceptionalism” insists that our cause is always just, the American heart always pure, and “our” side always righteous. We won’t hold ourselves to the standards others must follow because we are the chosen ones, the superior group, above the law and common norms of behavior. We’re exceptional!
That’s nonsense; it’s the way of lawlessness, permanent war, crimes against humanity, and a breakdown of any hope for a world at peace and in balance.
The US should spend time practicing how to be a people among peoples, a nation among nations. We can start by agreeing with that short bit Putin wrote above. And we can then work toward discovering our own deepest humanity by fully embracing the humanity of all others.