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American Exceptionalism (?) | davelovell.net
Aug 142010
 

By early Spring each year, my Euro­pean His­tory classes reach the age of Impe­ri­al­ism, and the Irish in me can’t help but take a few shots at the British.  From Kipling’s White Man’s Bur­den to Mountbatten’s desire to make the world British, it’s easy for us colo­nials to poke fun at such national hubris.

Although the US never overtly engaged in the Euro­pean scram­ble for colo­nial pos­ses­sions in Africa and Asia due to the delayed arrival of the 2nd phase of the Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, we did even­tu­ally get into the sub­ju­ga­tion busi­ness. From Man­i­fest Des­tiny to Cuban Pro­tec­torates to a nasty three-year war with the Fil­ipinos after they helped us boot the Span­ish out, but then real­ized we intended to stay.

The Amer­i­can ver­sion was dif­fer­ent in that the ter­ri­to­ries that came under our dom­i­na­tion were not for col­o­niz­ing, but were a way to acquire and expand new mar­kets for Amer­i­can Exports.  By the start of the 20th cen­tury, Amer­i­can sup­ply was about to sur­pass Amer­i­can demand, and so new deman­ders would have to be found.  The Philip­pines were freed from the Span­ish and then kept for one rea­son; China (ten gazil­lion peo­ple, and one toaster) and man­u­fac­tur­ers of Amer­i­can toast­ers had a pow­er­ful lobby…

The ten-year keg­ger of the 1920’s was fol­lowed by the hang­over of the 1930’s, but then came the demand of the sec­ond world war which refired Amer­i­can Indus­trial vigor, and brought a vic­tory (and the con­cur­rent end of Europe as a world eco­nomic player) that pre­sented us with a unique oppor­tu­nity.  The Bret­ton Woods meet­ings and the sub­se­quent cre­ation of the IMF, the World Bank and GATT cre­ated a world will­ing to embrace the Amer­i­can Eco­nomic model, even more so if it would save them from famine, dis­ease and the Red Men­ace…  And so the power years of Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism began.

A dev­as­tated West­ern Europe was more than happy to lis­ten to us tell them of the glo­ries of free-markets, as long as the bil­lions from the Mar­shall Plan kept pour­ing in, and the lights came back on and the water became drink­able. The mirac­u­lous eco­nomic recov­ery which soon fol­lowed seemed tes­ti­mony to the truth of our mes­sage, but it was also a pyrrhic victory.

If the Amer­i­can approach had worked so well in rebuild­ing an econ­omy and halt­ing the spread of com­mu­nism in West­ern Europe, it should work any­where, right?  And so US Cold War­riors attempted to apply the same method­olo­gies in Africa, Asia and the Mid­dle East for most of the next three decades.

Prob­lem – it’s one thing to con­vince some­one in Lyon that “our way” will get the lights back on and the roads rebuilt: because he has actu­ally had lights and roads before!  Try­ing to use that same rhetoric in a small vil­lage out­side of Saigon is tough, how do you con­vince some­one to want some­thing they’ve never had (I know… Adver­tis­ing, — a.k.a. “Hearts & Minds).  Try as he did, LBJ could never under­stand why the inhab­i­tants of the Mekong Delta weren’t over­joyed with his offer of build­ing a Viet­namese ver­sion of the TVA.

Damn…it’s just a dam

I apol­o­gize, that was all sup­posed to be just a quick para­graph of his­tor­i­cal back­ground to what I actu­ally wanted to write about, but I wrote myself into a hole and decided to just keep typ­ing till I found a way out.

Back to the point that I was try­ing to get to; when Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism was tied strictly to profit motive and the defeat of com­mu­nism, most of the world was will­ing to give us a pass – Amer­ica was scene as noveau-riche, but well mean­ing, even if a bit self-righteous.  It’s like get­ting stuck next to the obnox­ious rich guy at a din­ner party; you’re pretty sure he’s an idiot, but all that cash demands a mod­icum of respect.

Then the world changed, Nixon took the US off the gold stan­dard in 1971, which gut­ted the clar­ity of the IMF and intro­duced the world’s econ­omy to the joys of float­ing cur­ren­ciesOPEC flexed its car­tel mus­cles the next year and gave every West­ern indus­trial econ­omy a les­son in supply-side the­ory that would have made Adam Smith splotz. (say that five times fast…)  To make things worse the Sovi­ets go and invade Afghanistan and the US sends stinger mis­siles, piles of Char­lie Wil­son spon­sored cash and Rambo in to help the Free­dom Fight­ers – Afghan Rebels – Tal­iban – Al Queda… no way that ever comes back to bite us.

Any­way, what the hell was I really try­ing to get to? Oh yea, I remem­ber.  We rebuilt West­ern Europe so well that the EU now con­trols about 40% of the world’s trade, the rapid cap­i­tal­ists of com­mu­nist China (wtf…?) now hold more Amer­i­can cur­rency IOU’s than we can admit and the hall­mark bank­ing houses of Amer­i­can finance are vaca­tion­ing down the rab­bit hole.

So what of Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism, what is it that we preach to the world now?  Sur­pris­ingly, we haven’t really changed our mes­sage that much – how long will the din­ner guests politely lis­ten to us once they know that we can’t pick-up the tab anymore?

What you may not know, and what may be doing our image more harm than even the overtly retarded for­eign poli­cies of Bush II, is the hys­ter­i­cal rant­ing of Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cals who have been tak­ing their twisted show of homo­pho­bic hatred on the road to Africa.

Please take a few min­utes and read through this arti­cle.

If this becomes the ver­sion of Amer­ica that the rest of the world begins to believe, I think that the global anti-Americanism of the Bush years will pale in comparison.

Much of the world still believes in us and really does hope for our full eco­nomic and polit­i­cal recov­ery, but if this is the mes­sage that a weak­ened US econ­omy is try­ing to back-up, they will all be lin­ing up to come after us – and it will be hard to blame them.

 Posted by at 8:16 am

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