Tomorrow we celebrate American independence and the birth of our nation. But I’m not feeling very patriotic.
I’ve been hearing a bit in the news about American exceptionalism, particularly as a potential political issue in the 2012 elections.
The problem is that American exceptionalism clouds our judgment, and does not allow us to see clearly when our system has problems.
When someone claims that the United States is the “greatest country on earth”, the definition of American exceptionalism, they are at the very least committing the sin of pride. The United States may be better than some other countries in some areas. Diversity, for instance. We’re a beautifully diverse country, with all kinds of different races, religions, cultures, ethnicities, sexual expressions, living more happily together than just about any time in human history. We have a long way to go in this, but truth be told, we’re way ahead of the curve.
We also have a lot of basic things well established - a free press, freedom of speech, and religious freedoms which create the conditions for the diversity we are privileged to experience.
The problem happens when our rhetoric conflicts with the reality on the ground. Many of us think of the United States as a moral nation. We are more religious, on average, than most of our European friends, for instance, and most of us think of Americans as generally good, altruistic and generous people.
But what about the realities of economic justice?
When our government refuses to fairly tax the wealthy, they thus rely on the middle class to pay their bills when we middle class folks can barely afford our own. The reality is that poor and working people spend a far greater percentage of their money than the wealthy, and spending is what will get us out of recession. If you keep taxes reasonable for the poor and middle class, and keep taxes high on the wealthy who can afford it, the country will no longer be in debt and our economy will be strong. Witness the 1990s.
But for those that are in favor of keeping taxes high on the poor, and low on the wealthy, when did this become the morally right thing to do?
Tomorrow, we celebrate the founding of our nation on the principles of the democratic movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, which were largely inspired by the Protestant reformation. The basic idea was that common people matter. Power, whether in government or in the church, should not be located in the hands of an elite few, but should be accountable to the people they are there to serve.
American exceptionalism is frosting on the bitter cake of oligarchy. The same cake modern Marie Antoinettes would have us eat while we cannot afford bread because we're straining to pay our mortgage. Unless we American voters rise up with an economic reformation to rival the protestant reformation and the American revolution, this nation’s soul is in danger of withering away, and and our democracy will go with it.