American exceptionalism and its consequences.
Underlying all this psychology are the realities of our true exceptionalism as we have:
-the highest per capita incarcerated population;
-the highest per capita users of cocaine, opioid, and amphetamine drugs;
-the highest per capita users of prescription drugs;
-the most expensive health care system devoid of outcomes to match its cost benefit ratio;
-the highest per capita of personal debt; and
-a majority mindset that still holds that our extraordinary military serves to defend our “freedom.”
Patrick states, “I will make a generality I am prepared to defend, Americans, by and large, would much rather believe than think.”
I agree with this and would add (as an observer of Christianity from the inside for many decades—now more from the outside, it must said) this indeed is both our ideology and our religion. “Only believe and eternal life is yours.” My problem with this has always been reconciling such simplistic “faith” to the Sermon on the Mount which is one call after another for action—peaceable action.
I was blessed to have an odd, Old Testament professor in my freshman year at what is now more than then a “conservative Christian” institution. (Then a college—now a university.) He did not teach ideology but rather prophetic action and the mess that is the Old Testament when read with any degree of integrity. One line I shall always remember, “Go to church, but don’t check your mind at the door.” I heeded those words, which have caused me plenty of mental anguish over the years as I see the complicity of Christianity with the evils this country has inflicted on the world and its own citizens in my lifetime. Not to mention, more than a few sermons that would get me riled up!
The well-informed readers here are all aware of the immoral abyss of our elected leaders and the press’ with their statements of our “moral clarity” in the Ukraine proxy war. All agree that dying Ukrainians is a great investment of American debt-financed spending. This while I’m still trying to figure out why Joe and Jane American feel any threat from Russians. Then there is our obsession with every pre-qualifier regarding Putin—we must say he is a thug. I’m hard pressed to see his global dealings in any measure as thuggish as our own! I can understand his popularity in his own country, and I'd take Lavrov over anyone in our state department now or from the past 30 years.
You lay out the origin of exceptionalism as quite simply the providence of the enormous resources and land to a people leaving the confines of the Old World. Then that this occurred at the dawn of the industrial revolution only served to further power this frontier dynamic.
Yet underlaying that is the other aspect of the Americas. The Melting Pot. We are a collection of peoples from all over the world, largely bound by opportunity.
So the real question then becomes, what happens when the opportunity starts to run dry?
What bounds us then?
While there are many aspects, one of the most notable was World War 2, coming on the heels of the Great Depression, served to turn up the heat under the melting pot. It was a collective effort that drew together all the various creeds, colors and classes into one enormous joint effort.
Yet the result was to make the military the one public works project the entire country agreed on.
Consider more tonnage of bombs were dropped on Korea than on Germany and Japan combined. The machine was not to be turned off. All subsequent wars after that really have been driven by the fact the military is the only tool in the tool box.
Even 9/11 needs to be considered in that light. Did Building 7 just collapse out of sympathy? Supposedly there was 10 thousand gallons of diesel in the basement for running generators, but where were the building and fire inspectors when that was designed?
Given how the opponents switched from communists to Arab terrorists, to Russians, it should be evident the driving factor isn't the ideology, so much as it's just cover for the one communal aspect this country has.
Then there is the fact of the importance of public debt to the functioning of capitalism. Money is a contract, not a commodity and to store the asset side of the ledger, there has to be a debt to back it. The secret sauce of capitalism is public debt backing private wealth. "The real money is in bonds."
When we talk psychology, there are often hidden factors driving it.
I l live in the Southwest waterfront of DC, and on 9/11 I was at work at the then headquarters of the EPA, a block away from my home. I went up to the top floor to look across the river at the Pentagon, and it was indeed on fire, as the wild rumors had said.
At that time I also belonged to a NYC zendo that met in the village. When visiting NYC I stayed with a fellow student who lived on Maiden Lane in a the financial district. I went to NY the Friday after the Tuesday attack. That Friday afternoon I found myself at an Indian restaurant in midtown, talking with fellow patrons: one man from India said emotionally “I moved to the US to get away from religious violence!”
I remember my part of the conversation was saying that this incident showed that the US was part of the world, and not separate from the forces and consequences of history.
I guess I was in the tasteful minority who took that lesson to heart.
The response you so insightfully analyzed is in keeping with another conversation with colleagues right after the attack. As the city and the federal government shut down, I invited my stranded colleagues to my nearby house to share a lunch of ratatouille I’d made the day before of the late summer’s produce.
We were all hanging around the TV in my living room when it occurred to me that the US defense strategy would have to change. No sooner than I had said that the incident proved that the controversial Star Wars weaponry was not fit for current threats than some talking head on television stated that this just proved how necessary Star Wars was! My jaw dropped.
But so it has gone ever since: one disastrous response has followed another for more than twenty years and we are now a people left without effective rights, political choices, a real economy, or any sense of national community. These very dark days will only get darker.
So much truth. However two things come to mind - 1. the fundamental corruption of the American values by the cabal of bankers who control our monetary system and hence our policy agendas - wars are profitable and for that reason intentional. Not the sin of the American people who end up as fodder most of the time. Furthermore citizens United has made it hard to ‘vote the bums out’ - those civil servants who are bought and paid for). 2. As an American living abroad what is (or used to be) an exceptional trait of being American was the ‘can-do’ attitude of my compatriots and the encouragement shown to them by fellow citizens. American positivity is impressive (once it doesn’t become arrogance). But it was focused on helping one achieve their own goals, not imposing the unwanted goals of others. It took living abroad to see the uniqueness of that Americanism. It’s exactly that trait that gives me hope we will rise from the ashes. But as Substack writer Will Shryver so eloquently stated - the ashes come first.
Unfortunately ignorance is actually taught in American schools. Students are left believing that only they and their American compatriots matter, that there is no reason to learn about the rest of the World. If that sense of pride of position is inculcated at a very early age than what chance is there of ever accepting America's realistic position in the World?
Can't help but observe Neil Howes' book The 4th Turning is Here (fresh in my mind as I just completed it) annotate this very well and outline what it might look like in the decades ahead. No guarantees that America will survive in its present ideological form, but it also may, as it responds to crises with a coming together when least expected.
Well-reasoned article Patrick, and I still think the worse is yet to come as I'm not optimistic, in the least.
I started reading a masterpiece of a book this week, which I purchased several years ago, and at times, my stomach would cramp up in anger at the path the U.S. has taken for trying to rule the world and dominate even outer space. The book is titled: "The Globalization Of NATO" by the astute scholar, Mahdi Darius Mazemroaya, which can be purchased at https://www.globalresearch.ca, or the publisher, https://www.claritypress.com (where I'll purchase P.L.'s latest book) and was published in 2012. NATO was bad enough then, but much worse now, thanks to the strong arm tactics of "Uncle Sam." You all know it already, or wouldn't be on this website.
Maybe I'm just a historical dilettante but if my understanding of the German philosopher/historian, Oswald Spengler (discredited by the Toynbee crowd on world history), but Spengler was correct on his analysis of Cultures and Civilizations in recorded history which I call a Vertical Pendulum. The Rise and Fall of Civilizations and Cultures.
So now, Blinken goes to Ukraine to tell his brethren, the foolish looking comedian clad in GI Joe attire that Crazy Joe B. is giving Zelensky and his "cronies" another billion bucks of our tax dollars.
Man, I thought I'd be getting a more substantial increase in my Social Security check next year.
John & Nisha Whitehead are doing a fantastic job at the Rutherford Institute. He's a genuine Constitutional lawyer, unlike the fraudulent compulsive liar, known as the "Dronebama" in impolite circles. His latest article, is titled: "The Next Crisis Is Anyone's Guess, But The Government Is Ready To Lockdown The Nation" which you can read at www.rutherford.org
American Exceptionalism, folks.............at it's worse!
Deeply thought through, PL. Soon to be travelling across North America - I'll be drawing comparisons between Canada and the US and with other nations with which I have some familiarity. Listening carefully, observing with eyes wide open, saying little... I'm not an Alexis de Tocqueville - but might I refer you to Peter CAREY's brilliant novel "Parrot and Olivier in America" (published in 2009) and based on that insightful observer during his travels and studies in the first half of the 19th-century. Ursula K Le Guin wrote an amusing review in praise of the book published in January 2010 - which I have just found online.
I am unsure of the answers to the two questions posed at the end, but climate change may supersede the agency of everyone involved.
Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen have an interesting book: Channels of Desire. Their argument is that the new migrants felt more American than Americans, due to media, etc. Maybe of interest? Or, maybe, you are familiar with this book.
This is a brilliant piece of work. Well done! And thank you.
I especially appreciated this line:
"One may not care for Donald Trump or for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., but that is not my concern here. Whatever one thinks of them, they are trying to speak in a new political language—the post-exceptionalist language all American must learn."
Col Douglas Macgregor Invitation