The Exceptional US

U.S. President Barack Obama shocked the entire world with his statement that the U.S. is an exceptional country. The phrase exceptionalism suggests “gods may do what cattle may not,” as if to put the nation above international rules and norms.* The U.S. is above all paraphrasing Hitler’s “Deutschland über alles!” (“Germany above all”). It is as if this phrase declares that the whole world is now nothing more than the United States’ resource in every sense of the word: in a political sense, an economic sense and a physical sense.

How should the Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Latin Americans, Europeans and others react, having been told that they are second-class citizens? The natural reaction is aggression. But where there is aggression, there is war. Therefore such statements shatter fragile peace and pertain to war rhetoric. Specifically for this reason they are informally prohibited. Yes, “peace” is merely a semblance, but it shows us that a semblance is not “merely a semblance” but a very important thing, the surety of an important state that everyone needs — the state of peace. The whole of human culture is nothing more than this “semblance,” and, conversely, where this semblance begins to be neglected we speak of barbarism, of primitive aggression, of brutish warfare. Hitler unleashed World War II precisely when he turned to this rhetoric of exceptionalism, aggression and belittlement of other nations. And it was the cause of Hitler’s defeat, despite the most modern army and the resources of all of Europe. It was not only Nazi Germany that demonstrated to all the dead end of boorish nationalism. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed when the Germans began to assert their exceptionalism within it. The Byzantine Empire fell when the Greeks declared themselves a distinct nation.

U.S. hegemony in the world had been recognized by all, whether willingly or unwillingly, but only so long as the U.S. spoke on behalf of common values and interests. Now the whole world sees America’s double standards. They speak about democracy but have one of the most archaic, undemocratic and nontransparent electoral systems in the world. They speak about freedom but have created a prison system that long ago surpassed the Gulag in scale. Even when it comes to such a trivial issue as gays: Their rights are supposedly defended in every instance, but in the U.S. they are prohibited from donating blood. Their immigration laws become stricter, though they talk about freedom of movement around the whole world for others. International politics is coming apart at the seams.

The U.S. has completely lost the role of world moral leader, and statements about exceptionalism only serve to reinforce this. Like never before, it makes sense for the U.S. to occupy itself with its own problems, learn humility and ask itself what it has been doing wrong over the course of decades, admit to the whole world its mistakes and errors, and not make a parade of its dubious pre-eminence.

*Editor’s Note: From the Latin phrase “Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi.”

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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