The Dysfunction of American Exceptionalism
"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line," W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1903 -- and I will not quibble. But the problem of the 21st century is the problem of culture, not just the infamous "culture of poverty" but what I would call the culture of smugness. The emblem of this culture is the term "American exceptionalism."
It has been adopted by the right to mean that America, alone among the nations, is beloved of God. Maybe so, but on some days it's hard to tell.
The term "American exceptionalism" has been invoked by Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and, of course, Sarah Palin.The praise has an odd history. But certain kinds of exceptionalism raise certain kinds of questions.
For an industrialized nation, the U.S. has a very high murder rate and, no surprise, a very high execution rate. We have a health care system cleverly designed to bankrupt the average person and a political system that may send us into national bankruptcy. God indeed works in mysterious ways.
American exceptionalism has produced a dysfunctional education system -- more than 14,000 school districts, lots of bad (but job-protected) teachers, oblivious parents and students who are too dumb to know they're dumb. American eighth-graders score 66 points below their Japanese counterparts in math, yet almost 40 percent of American kids think they're good in math. That figure for Japan is 4 percent.
Let no person think there is not a certain kind of American exceptionalism that I believe in and cherish. It is our astounding capacity for tolerance. European history is a sad, sanguinary tale -- massacres, pogroms, population transfers and genocides. Most European nations have rid themselves of pesky minorities. …