mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“American Exceptionalism In A Nutshell”: We Think “Freedom” Is Just Another Word For “Packing Heat”

Well, Donald Trump finally said something I agree with 100%:

Here’s what I said about gun rights and American Exceptionalism back in July when the president told the BBC that his inability to enact reasonable gun regulations was his greatest frustration:

Any British audience would be puzzled by this phenomenon, but then the Brits aren’t exactly freedom-loving, are they?

Well, actually they are, as are people in a lot of other advanced countries where there’s no expectation of any right to set oneself up as a private army.

And that gets to one of the roots of the ideology of “American exceptionalism.” If you compare the U.S. to other nations where there are reasonably solid traditions of self-government, respect for law, and democratic accountability, in what respect do we enjoy more “liberty?” When people tearfully sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m proud to be an American,” what do they mean when they say “at least I know I’m free,” as compared, say, to a Canadian? The only thing readily identifiable is our unique freedom to pack heat. And so long as that is thought to be integral to American identity, and protected by powerful and wealthy interest groups, including maybe one-and-a-half major political parties, then efforts to take the most reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of potential shooters will continue to be “frustrated.”

I love my country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I sure wish fewer of us thought of “freedom” as just another word for packing heat, and even fewer thought they had the right to stockpile weapons in case they decide it’s necessary to overthrow the government and impose their will on the rest of us.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 18, 2015

September 20, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Freedom, Gun Regulations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Lack Of Confidence In The American Project”: Sorry, Donald Trump; America Needs Birthright Citizenship

Conservatives usually believe in American exceptionalism, and in upholding the Constitution. Which is why it’s strange to see so much conservative ebullience over Donald Trump’s proposal to end birthright citizenship.

It’s not news that there are a significant number of Americans who are anxious about immigration — illegal and otherwise — and that they exert considerable political clout (though ultimately less than is sometimes breathlessly suggested). And many of those people fret about so-called “anchor babies.” The problem with “anchor babies” is that they’re a myth. (Trust me. As a Frenchman with a fertile wife who often wanted to emigrate to the U.S., I did the research.)

This fight therefore nicely serves to highlight the fact that most (though not all) fears related to immigration belong more to the realm of fantasy than reality.

But it also illustrates something else: how the restrictionist position is all too often born of a lack of confidence in the American project.

After all, the two are inseparable. Birthright citizenship says, quite explicitly, “The American project is so strong, our culture is so strong, our values are so strong, that any baby born on our soil, no matter where his parents come from, will ultimately grow up to be a well-adjusted American, so that we don’t need to wait for him to prove himself to extend citizenship.”

In contrast, the movement to end birthright citizenship says, essentially, “Nope, sorry, that’s not true. We can’t do it. We can’t do it anymore.”

Which, again, goes to highlight the tension between extreme restrictionism in immigration and conservative values. Conservatives typically display above average, not below average, confidence in the American project and in the capacity of judicious applications of American patriotism to solve problems.

There’s another funny intersection between birthright citizenship and the conservative worldview, and I have an unusual window into it. As I said, I’m a Frenchman. France and the United States are unusual in both being nations explicitly founded (or refounded) on Enlightenment values. And one trait they share is that they both instituted birthright citizenship.

One reason was the Enlightenment-driven belief, over and against the feudalism that prevailed in most places in Europe, that citizenship depended on a social contract, not a bloodline, and that your parentage should not therefore change your citizenship status.

But there was another reason (and here lies an entire critique of the Enlightenment, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms), a reason we’re not too comfortable with today: empire. The institution of birthright citizenship in France was enacted by France’s revolutionary government and ratified by Napoleon’s civil code, partly so citizens could be pressed into duty in the army. As France expanded, so did its citizenship rolls, as did its citizen army, as did its military might, all in a virtuous cycle (virtuous, at least, from Napoleon’s perspective).

The U.S. enacted birthright citizenship for different reasons, to ensure the citizenship of freed slaves after the Civil War. But the point is that birthright citizenship is historically associated with confidence in the national project, perhaps even supreme confidence.

Oh, and how did it do in France? Well, we got scared of immigrants, so we got rid of birthright citizenship piecemeal over the past few decades.

So here’s the other odd thing about the birthright citizenship debate: American conservatives saying they want to be more like France. Kudos!

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, August 24, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Birthright Citizenship, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Our Collective American Blind Spot”: To Teach Only ‘American Exceptionalism’ Is To Ignore Half The Country’s Story

In late July, the College Board, the administrators of the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, issued new guidelines for teaching AP United States history. One change was to add a section on “American exceptionalism,” a concept as old as the country itself that the United States is qualitatively different – and, arguably, better – than other nations.

While “exceptionalism,” at its best, nurtures civic pride, at its worst, it blinds Americans to the country’s long history of remarkably unexceptional ideas and actions. What George Santayana so neatly encapsulated over a century ago remains painfully true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As a historian and tour guide, I often see this collective American blind spot on display as I lead walks of historic New York City. On Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace, a quaint carving of a witch on a broomstick is a jumping off point for discussing the deep anti-Irish sentiment in the city following the influx of immigrants after the 1845 potato famine. Political cartoonists like Thomas Nast depicted the Irish as apes and Catholic bishops as monsters; “No Irish Need Apply” signs appeared in shop windows.

As I tell these stories, I can see the anger grow in some of my listeners. One woman flat-out told me to stop talking. “You can’t say that,” she admonished. “It’s not true.” I clarified that these were not my opinions, but those of many Protestant New Yorkers a century and a half ago. “No,” she repeated. She did not want to know about an America where such things were possible – which, of course, meant she didn’t want to confront the idea that she might still live in such a place.

Similarly, in Chinatown one day, my explanation of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively banned Chinese immigration for six decades, led one visitor to launch into a tirade about America’s porous borders. I shook my head – not at his critique, which had some valid points – but at his inability to connect the country’s history with his own past. You see, he was Chinese American. The Chinese Exclusion Act had been an affront to his heritage; current immigrants were an affront to his political and economic ideals. He saw no link between the two.

In revising their standards, the College Board is hoping to bridge this gap between the nation’s history and students’ contemporary experiences by providing “sufficient time to immerse students in the major ideas, events, people and documents of US history,” where before “they were instead required to race through topics.” The revisions were also a reaction to conservative input on the AP curricula revision process – beginning in 2012, there had been a groundswell of conservative criticism against the proposed standards, which the Republican National Committee argued “emphasize[d] negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The College Board sought input from teachers, historians and parents to shape teaching guidelines that present a “clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history.”

Unfortunately, the new standards have also softened the language about the country’s most shameful episode: its 244-year history of slavery. As recent “heritage not hate” rallies centered on the Confederate battle flag illustrate, there is perhaps no greater myth in America today than the idea that the Civil War was predominantly about states’ rights. Well, it was about one right: the right to own Africans as chattel.

In Texas, new textbooks minimize the role of slavery in the Civil War, despite the fact that the state’s own “Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union” explicitly stated that the Confederacy was “established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity” and that “the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free….” Gone from the state’s new books are mentions of Jim Crow or the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the “you can’t say that” woman in Central Park writ large. This is especially troubling since Texas’s large population means that its curricular standards influence textbook buying in other states.

America is, in fact, an exceptional place. Founded by groups as diverse as indigenous Native Americans, Dutch merchants, English separatists, Spanish missionaries, French frontiersman and Africans – both free and enslaved – the country’s diversity stretches back four centuries. Each of these groups, and the many immigrants who followed them, brought strengths, and weaknesses, with them. We are right to celebrate the strengths, but if we don’t shine a light on the weaknesses, we are ignoring at least half the story.

 

By: James Nevius, The Guardian, August 3, 2015

August 9, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, American History, The College Board | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“What Makes Us Exceptional”: Our Willingness To Confront Squarely Our Imperfections And To Learn From Our Mistakes

This week President Obama did something unprecedented…he took responsibility for a terrible mistake that took the lives of two good men.

Here’s a part of what he said:

But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.

In some ways, that echoes what he said at the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Selma.

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

Of course, the events he was commemorating at that time didn’t happen on his watch. So the personal burden wasn’t as heavy.

But I was reminded of another time when President Obama’s administration made a mistake and he stepped right up to take responsibility. It was when the rollout of healthcare.gov was such a disaster. Here’s what he said then:

…there are going to be ups and downs during the course of my presidency. And I think I said early on when I was running – I am not a perfect man, and I will not be a perfect President, but I’ll wake up every single day working as hard as I can on behalf of Americans out there from every walk of life who are working hard, meeting their responsibilities, but sometimes are struggling because the way the system works isn’t giving them a fair shot.

And that pledge I haven’t broken. That commitment, that promise, continues to be – continues to hold – the promise that I wouldn’t be perfect, number one, but also the promise that as long as I’ve got the honor of having this office, I’m just going to work as hard as I can to make things better for folks…

I make no apologies for us taking this on – because somebody sooner or later had to do it. I do make apologies for not having executed better over the last several months.

At the time, I remember thinking that was one of the most courageous things I’d ever seen a president do. And now, under even more somber circumstances, he’s done it again.

Some people think that our exceptionalism as a country comes from being better than everyone else and focusing only on the positive. Admitting mistakes certainly makes us vulnerable. But pretending to be perfect is nothing but a lie. And it robs us of both the ability to learn from our mistakes and to embrace the kind of humility that opens the door to empathy for others.

President Obama has been willing to put his ego aside, admit when he’s been wrong, and make a determined effort to learn from those mistakes. Those are the kinds of lessons that we – as individuals – need to learn. But they also apply to how we go about “perfecting our union.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 25, 2015

April 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Patriotism, President Obama | , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Gradual De-Christianization Of This Country”: America Is Becoming Exceptional Religiously, Not Exceptionally Religious

It’s always good for Americans to be reminded that the rest of the world is a great big place that isn’t always congruent with our own assumptions about the way things should be. So a new Pew survey on global religious affiliations, projected to 2050, is interesting in no small part because the United States is a bit of an outlier–or if you prefer, “exceptional.”

Here are the big toplines about what the world is expected to look like in 2050:

* The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

* Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.

* The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.

* In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.

* India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.

* In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

* Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those who have been excited about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in America–particularly among young people–may be pleased at the projections about the gradual de-Christianization of this country. But it’s not a global trend. And the unaffiliated are projected to have the smallest percentage growth of children in their ranks between now and 2050 of any religious category, so the growth vectors will depend entirely on rising net “conversions” from conventional religions. One reason that’s not a lively prospect is that the Asian heartland of non-belief–especially China and Japan–has very low population growth projections, and the latter country is a big future target for the religious groups denied access to the Chinese under communism.

The Pew study most definitely represents bad news for Islamophobes, given the continued growth of that faith community via high fertility rates and a strong base in developing countries where large families remain the norm (that’s partially true of Christianity, at least in its new sub-Saharan hot spots).

In any event, while the United States is likely to remain the most religiously observant of advanced western democracies, its “exceptional” nature will also reflect a growing gap with a more religiously observant planet. Go figure.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 2, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Islamophobia, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: