THE BLOG
03/05/2013 12:56 pm ET Updated May 05, 2013

"American Exceptionalism": Are We a Victim of Our Own Conceit?

The term American exceptionalism and its meaning have evolved over many generations. What it may have meant in the past is not important, what it has come to mean today though, threatens to cripple our future.

To advocate for American exceptionalism today means to believe fervently in the superiority of our nation concerning all matters. The unshakeable belief that if America does it, then it must be right. America is beyond reproach and is better than everyone else.

The term is now being used as a rallying cry for conservatives. United States citizens, especially presidential candidates must profess devotion to the concept of American exceptionalism or be deemed a traitor who does not believe in the infallibility of American policy. Devotion to the term is such a high priority for conservatives that wearing a flag pin on your lapel does not even compare.

This concept is being used synonymously with patriotism or love of country. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is rather easy to love something or someone even though they are not perfect. My children came to mind when I made that statement. Conservatives insist that love for country is not enough, one must also believe in the inerrancy of our actions and our system.

Let us look at what American exceptionalism has gotten us so far. Annually each of us on average pays almost $8,000 for health care. The next most expensive country is Norway whose citizens pay just under $5,400. Certainly since we pay so much for our health care, we must have the best health care system. This wonderful health care system lets us live to a wonderful 72 years of age which gives us the medal for 27th highest mortality rate among industrialized countries. We die sooner than 26 other countries. We also have three times as many babies die (per capita) in the U.S. as they do in Sweden. Bravo.

America certainly is a generous country. We have even gifted the American Dream to not one, not a few, but most European countries. Upward mobility, or that ability that we once had to improve our lot in life if you studied hard and worked hard, is now more easily found in Canada than the United States.

Let us look now at income equality. Surely, we are pretty good there, after all this is America. Actually 10 Latin American countries have less income inequality than the United States.

Our greatest resource should be our children, they are our future, but no so quick. One study of 50 countries found that the best the U.S. could do in education was 17th.

America's exceptional nature resulted in a war largely fought over whether one man has the right to own another, but perhaps the thing that sets us apart from everyone else is the fact that women had to fight for their right to vote, only earning that right in 1920.

We are certainly much better than everyone else in our zeal for war, torture, the death penalty and our willingness to let tens of thousands of Americans die every year from lack of proper health care.

Today we see our fellow citizens, members of the LGBT community, compelled to pay all their taxes, but currently entitled to fewer rights. We have fellow citizens who wear their love of freedom as a badge of honor, but work fervently to deny others freedom. I am confused, this is exceptional behavior? This suggests a right and just society?

We have from time to time demonstrated the ability to make mistakes. We have sometimes failed to lead the world in matters of character and justice. Yet, character exists and in great proportions. We tend to do the right thing in the end, and sometimes all that is needed is more information and time to consider our actions.

When we blindly believe in the infallibility of our nation, we forget the inherent fallibility of all of us as individuals. We need to look no further than to the dysfunction found on the Hill to know that this is true. We need to only consider the fact that we are currently facing a dilemma that both sides manufactured, that both sides agree will cause a great deal of damage to our economy, and that both sides are willing to let happen, to know that this is true. Does this make any sense? Does this represent the modern day interpretation of American exceptionalism and suggest superior handling of the responsibilities of leadership and governing?

When we blindly believe in the infallibility of our nation, the decisions we have made and the decisions we will make, we render ourselves unable to see the error of our ways and therefore to make the changes needed to stay atop this very competitive global environment.

It is no wonder in this remarkably self-absorbed society that we think this way. We fail to recognize that as many people there are in the United States, that there are many others around the world who live in countries that they too love.

In some of those places they have implement policies that have worked and worked quite well. Our largest corporations routinely research the advancements and products made by their competitors. This desire to not be caught flat footed as competitors change the marketplace is non-existent within our government, where the American way is the only way. This should not be justification for maintaining the status quo or it will be the reason why we are permanently removed from the upper tier of nations.

When did it become so easy for us to look down our nose at people who are routinely kicking our ass?

We certainly have had exceptional opportunity to implement change and have demonstrated the ability to make that change. Unfortunately, sometimes it has taken decades and on occasion lives lost.

Changes will continue to be made and must be made. The most obvious place to start is Washington, with a group of men and women fighting hard for their beliefs, but determined to reach a compromise and do no further damage for no other reason than love of country. If unable to accomplish this we must assume that some of our leaders motivation is not love of country, but rather love of party or love of their most generous campaign donors.

Judging from the current atmosphere we must remain vigilant in the search for the right mix of men and women.

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