Living in the Bubble of American Exceptionalism

When historians look back on the American miracle, they will surely rank it among the most amazing civilizations ever. Never before has such a large country been governed in such a populist manner. Never before has a country achieved so much wealth for so many. Never before has one nation been so influential in the world.

Of course “populist” does not necessarily mean fair or efficient. From what I’ve read, the Hapsburgs were better at governing than the American push-you-pull-you system. And “populist” is not the same as democratic. There have been other democratic systems – in early Greece, for example. But what makes America exceptional – to me at any rate – is that with more than 300 million citizens -and its sad legacy of racism, slavery and bigotry – America manages to give a voice to nearly everyone.

I credit the unfettered media and the polls that the media feed on. I credit the Internet and Hollywood and TV and rock music and…

And of course I credit the American people – their brashness and selfishness, their unashamed “pursuit of happiness,” and their refusal to let any politician or authority figure get in their way.

But things change, and the American miracle is changing too.

Every system is vulnerable to abuse, and this one is no exception. Scalawags have taken advantage of it, weakening America’s economic and political might. And, with the American example to follow, other nations are emerging to demand a fair share of the world’s bounty. It’s a new ball game, and America can no longer play by the old rules.

Apparently, some Americans haven’t noticed the change.

In a speech at the University of Louisville this week, Sen. Marco Rubio warned that Amercia is “retreating” from its dominant role in the world, and predicted the result will be “chaos” and “tyranny.”

I was born in Jamaica when the island was a British colony so I am familiar with the concept of “the white man’s burden.” But I had hoped the idea was a quaint relic of the past.

I had not expected to find it still alive in America.

But apparently it is. An article by Daniel Larison published in The Week argues that:

These statements reflect the seriously flawed assumptions of Rubio and other hawkish interventionists about what American engagement in the world requires, and they reveal just how alarmist and outdated Rubio’s worldview is. And it is because Rubio’s worldview continues to be the one that prevails among Republican leaders that it merits closer inspection….

It has become a common hawkish refrain that the U.S. cannot withdraw from any conflict or reduce its commitments anywhere in the world without inviting either chaos or risking the increased influence of authoritarian major powers or both.

Have these American politicians learned nothing from Vietnam? Or Iraq? Or Afghanistan?

What will it take to open their eyes? A catastrophic adventure in Iran? A bloodbath in North Korea and the confrontation with China that would inevitably ensue?

Surely, even Rubio and his fellow-Republicans are more sophisticated than that.

Larison points out that:

The idea that U.S. preeminence in the world must necessarily be “replaced” by the global dominance of authoritarian governments hasn’t made any sense in over 20 years. Today, major authoritarian powers are significantly less powerful and less ambitious in their foreign policy goals than America’s 20th century rivals. Today, many of the world’s rising powers are democratic and have no interest in falling in line behind Chinese or Russian “leadership.”

Perhaps the saber rattling that Rubio and his “conservative” allies indulge in could be just another example of self-serving propaganda designed to influence America’s populace – and manipulate its populist system. By spreading the alarm, they hope to create a favorable climate for defense spending. After all, the Pentagon’s budget is under the axe because of that “sequester” Congress wished on the nation.

As Larison notes:

The implication in Rubio’s speech that there is a danger of another state becoming the world’s predominant military power is sheer alarmism designed to justify an exorbitant military budget that is larger in real terms than it was at the height of the Reagan-era build-up

 Let’s hope that’s all it is – business as usual in the relentless competition for the Yankee dollar.

Click here for Larison’s article.