When a reporter asked Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference last Tuesday what he thought about Donald Trump’s threat to use armed forces to suppress the mass protests occurring in the wake of the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and in response to unceasing state violence against African Americans, Trudeau’s answer spoke volumes about the global standing of the United States.
One of my favorite book titles is that of Tom Moylan’s 1986 study of utopian literature: Demand the Impossible.
He explains, if memory serves, that he saw those words spray-painted on a wall in the Paris streets during the 1968 mass rebellions. The phrase stayed with him, clearly, as it has with me
The phrase has been re-echoing for me given recent events highlighting both the abiding death-driven GOP politics of greed but also a new ambitious Democratic politics. This evolving attitude in the Democratic Party eschews the cautious and insufficient incrementalism of even Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in favor of a far more humane and imaginative politics of possibility. This fresh Democratic politics is rooted in not just concrete reality, but in actually existing practices in countries around the globe and even in the United States, in states such as Washington, governed by the trailblazing Jay Inslee. One factor in this evolution may be the loosening of the stranglehold of American Exceptionalism among Democrats as well as its waning force in United States culture overall.
Last week, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced a sham vote on a resolution of the Green New Deal, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn excoriated the Democrat’s ambitious blueprint, saying, “”The Green New Deal is chockful of utopian ideas but completely devoid of concrete plans to implement any of its overreaching policies.” He dismissed the plan as a “radical environmental policy” that includes “Medicare for all, free college, and guaranteed jobs.”
Yet, while the resolution wasn’t actual legislation, many of the bold ideas involved in the Green New Deal, such as transitioning U.S. energy production to largely renewable sources, raising the marginal tax rate for earned income over $10 million 70% (it was 90% during Eisenhower’s presidency and 71% during Nixon’s), providing government-funded college education, healthcare for all, and more, are all objectives being realized in other nations and even undergoing implementation in the United States.
A society with these characteristics is not just NOT impossible. It’s more than possible; it’s reality in many countries.
Germany, a nation that already generates 41% of its energy from renewable sources, recently announced a plan, expected to be adopted by the government, to shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants by 2038 in order to meets international commitments to address climate change. This plan came on the heels of a previous decision, made after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster, to shut down all its nuclear power plants by 2022 (12 of 19 have already been shut down).
BOOM. It’s possible—and actual.
But, of course, the cultural and political mentality would need to overcome the arrogance of American exceptionalism that has so long dominated—and occluded—thinking in the United States.
What do I mean by American exceptionalism?
American exceptionalism has a long history in our culture. As Harvard Professor Stephen Walt explains, typical manifestations of this belief “presume that America’s values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration” and “imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.” They rest “on the belief that the United States is a uniquely virtuous nation, one that loves peace, nurtures liberty, respects human rights, and embraces the rule of law.” “Americans,” Walt says, “like to think their country behaves much better than other states do, and certainly better than other great powers.”
This belief is so powerful that it distorts our national vision and, because it prevents us from truly assessing where we fall short, hinders our ability to address dimensions of our culture gravely in need of amelioration.
Take a recent example in which Senator Bernie Sanders dared critique the U.S. healthcare system because the cost of a birthing a child is $12,000 compared to $60 in Finland.
Without missing a beat, Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., tweeted, “Health care costs are too high that is true but comparing us to Finland is ridiculous. Ask them how their health care is. You won’t like their answer.”
Well, Finland’s representative to the U.N. Kai Sauer quickly responded: “Finland has a high performing health system, with remarkable good quality in both primary and hospital care. The country also achieves good health status at relatively low level of health spending.” Additionally, Sauer noted that the United Nations describes Finland as having the world’s third-lowest infant mortality rate and the lowest maternal mortality, measures typically used to evaluate a nation’s healthcare systems overall. The United States has the worst overall child mortality rate compared with 19 other wealthy nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to a study published last year in the journal Health Affairs.
“The US is the most dangerous of wealthy, democratic countries in the world for children,” according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Ashish Thakrar.
Haley’s reflexive quip exemplifies this American exceptionalist attitude that prevents us from seeing what is possible and actual, thus rendering reality “impossible” in our political discourse. We don’t even see our own failings to recognize we can do better.
In 2016, such thinking was rampant. When Sanders would bring up the fact that countries like Denmark did provide college education and healthcare for its citizens—not for “free” but through taxation—he was roundly skewered, accused on shows like Morning Joe and Hardball for making a “political gaffe” and not understanding that Americans don’t want to be Scandinavian.
Even Clinton jumped on the bandwagon, declaring, ““We are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America.”
Leaders like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who do not fear being labeled Euorpean socialists, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has raised the minimum wage in his state and instituted measures to achieve a
green economy and address climate change
Conservatives want you to believe that American history consists of the mighty white Northern European male imposing his will on a continent
Trending at the Values Voters Summit: when "a president praises a promiscuous co-ed," it is "the definition of civilization decline"
How do America's most extreme gun enthusiasts want to live? You'll soon get to find out as they build their own city in the mountains of Idaho
Israel could not have attacked Gaza without the tacit consent of the American government, which persists in seeing Israel as the victim
Paul Ryan says Obama's path compromises some non-existent values; the real problem is that Obama stands between Ryan and the Constitution
John Kerry exposed the Romney-Ryan foreign policy as the neocon shell game that it is, contrasting it with the steady hand of Barack Obama
Fischer claims the the neo-Nazi Sikh temple shooter was a liberal because he was a Nazi but a glance at the rhetoric tells a different story
An English movie, 'This is England' could have very well been the story of the American Tea Party with numerous parallels.
Southern Poverty Law Center offers a list of 30 New Activists Heading Up the Radical Right, who represent the worst America has to offer
The American dream was being born poor, studying, and working hard to find success is something Romney can't understand, while Obama lived through it and earned the nation’s highest office.
The Religious Elite like the Wealth Elite wants us to subordinate our interests to their own. We can Occupy the Bible or let it destroy us
The Republican presidential hopefuls have established cults of personality in line with Max Weber's model of charismatic leadership
Santorum says it is okay to attack another country if we don't like their religion, even though that religion sounds a lot like Christianity
A new Indiana law would punish schools that stray from lyrical and melodic guidelines for the national anthem, stifling artistic expression.
Many Republicans and Tea Party groups are of the misguided opinion that America has the right to do whatever it chooses in the world and that the choices it does make are perfect. Although America is a great country and one of the world's super-powers, it does not always make the right decisions and is not exceptional. The phrase "American exceptionalism" is thrown around continuously by conservatives who believe that America is without fault, and it leads to discriminatory policies abroad and here at home. There are myriad reasons why America is not exceptional, and it boils down to one problem; conservatives.
Why did Sarah Palin keep an Israeli flag in her office in Juneau? She needed an American flag and an Alaskan flag. Didn't her governor's obligations stop there?
Sarah Palin recently took to her Facebook page to claim that President Obama does not accept the greatness of America. Palin said, "We have a President, perhaps for the very first time since the founding of our republic, who doesn't appear to believe that America is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever known."