By Robin Lehman
When I read articles, left and right, about Trump this and Trump that, it seems that people forget that our politics has been degraded for almost a half a century. It seems Trump has become either the cause of the problems or he is solving all the problems that Obama caused, depending on your viewpoint. But I feel Trump is just the result of decades of social degeneration caused by the notion that the USA is the “greatest nation on the face of the earth”: American exceptionalism. This notion, which is held by Democrats and Republicans alike, doesn’t allow for any serious criticisms of our institutions and especially our international policies.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been good buddies when it comes to destabilizing democratic governments around the world: from Iran in 1953 (Eisenhower/Nixon) to Honduras in 2009 (Obama/Biden with Clinton as secretary of state). Time magazine had a cover article in 1996 giving President Clinton credit for Yeltsin’s re-election in Russia: The hypocrisy of getting upset when someone else meddles in our election is a little feeble if you live anywhere but Europe or North America. Even mentioning Iraq, Libya or Syria is just a little bloody icing on the cake when it comes to both parties agreeing to murder women and children around the world.
The notion of American exceptionalism also breeds contempt for knowledge and science. That we are somehow superior to other countries is contradicted by all studies throughout the years. All of the sources quoted here are conservative (Economist Magazine, World Bank, etc.). The USA ranks 17th of 80 in the “Quality of Life” index in 2017 which measures, among other things, life expectancy at birth, political freedoms, job security and gender equality. Of 72 countries we are 40th in math, 25th in science, 24th in reading. And yes, health: We rank 42nd of 224 countries in terms of life expectancy at birth. Our maternal mortality rate is the highest of 49 countries considered advanced economies, three times as high as Canada or England. That’s as we spend more per capita on health than any other country. So if we are exceptional it certainly is not in a good way.
‘ARROGANT HIGH HORSE’
So, for me, I think we need to get off the arrogant high horse of super nationalism and realize we are one of 195 countries in the world that have problems that we have to solve just like everyone else. We have to question the notion that we are the world’s policeman, that violence will protect us from evil both at home and abroad. Is punishment the answer rather than persuasion and rehabilitation? Shouldn’t we question an economic system that leaves millions of citizens in poverty? Is it really necessary to spend $750 billion on the military per year? Should a person who works 40 hours per week be able to support a family? There are certainly enough of us to cut the workweek to 30 hours and be able to support a family. There’s plenty of money, but it’s being hoarded by the “1 percent.” Is that OK? And what about the federal deficit: Is that really even an issue? Politicians use it as needed to stop spending they don’t want. Mitch McConnell just said that spending on social needs entitlements was driving the deficit, but this is just weeks after he voted $150 billion extra for the military and gave the richest of us a multibillion-dollar tax break.
In conclusion we need to stop using greatness as a battering ram and need to, instead, ask where we want to go. Do we want an equitable society or not? How do we go about making peace instead of war? This is not about going back to a better USA. It’s about going forward to a new way of being in the world: no MAGA or “return to civility.” This is about looking at what other countries are doing better than us, empirically, and from there figuring out how to do those things in an American way. Even better would be to ask how to do it even better than has been done.