THE BLOG
08/12/2014 12:49 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2014

'Exceptional American'

I've never been much for the idea of "American exceptionalism." Always thought it sounded smug, egomaniacal. It's as if we in the United States have this strange need to keep reminding ourselves that we are inherently better than everyone else simply because... well, we're Americans. Senior editor at TIME Ishaan Tharoor has described it as, "The conviction that the US is unique in its role and purpose in the world and is, yes, better than the rest."

Of course, the irony is that the more wedded we become to the idea, the more insecure it makes us seem, as if it were some sort of phobia we have. We simply must believe we're special. It's probably one of the reasons that "God bless America" has become such a mantra with us. Really? What's wrong with "God bless planet Earth"?

Ironically, it is precisely those who cling to this idea who are the ones now clammering loudest to immediately deport the tens of thousands of child migrants who have arrived from Central America during the past year. They are the ones suggesting that we should adopt Israel's brilliant tactics in Gaza to defend our southern border. The rationale is simply that we must uphold our laws and protect our borders. Uh, but there is nothing exceptional about this.

What would be exceptional is if we looked at our border crisis as a humanitarian situation, and we reflected on our responsibility for helping fuel it in the first place. If we looked at it from the broader standpoint of what is compassionate, as opposed to the more narrower one of what is legal.

Neither is there anything exceptional about invading other countries and creating the sort of chaos that is now coming back to bite us. Or threatening to bomb other countries who do not submit to our will. Kind of like Russia is doing in the Ukraine. Or refusing to talk to our enemies, or being reluctant to apologize for our mistakes. Or build a wall around our country to keep the nasties out. Hello! This is all thoroughly unexceptional behavior. It may make sense to us and appear perfectly reasonable and wise. But there's nothing exceptional about it. It's what any country might do, given similar power, bind spots, and circumstances.

Deport all undocumented immigrants? Yeah, sure, it's the right thing to do. Send them home. After all, they're the ones who broke the law. It's not our fault their countries are such a mess. Nah, how could it be? Not our problem. Gosh, I wish Bibi was our president. God, I wish we had his fence. And what's up with Africa and its Ebola problem? Why do Christian missionaries have to go jetting off to those "disease-ridden cesspools"? America's Christians should serve their own country. "Can't anyone serve Christ in America anymore?"