America and Its Exceptionalism

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but Dave ‘Tex’ Smith, a good colleague of mine from Australia posted a wonderful tribute to America yesterday on Facebook. Aside from the fact that I was honored to be called out in it (in a good way) … it got me thinking about whether or not we really deserve the credit Tex gave us.

A symbol of exceptionalism?

Today a lot of you will be at the barbecue, waiving flags and celebrating the 4th of July. This is the day that us in the United States are supposed to celebrate our independence from the tyranny of King George III of England. And along with this comes talks of how great this country is … its exceptionalism.

Well, I ain’t waiving no flag! Now don’t get me wrong. I love the United States and have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean in its current state this country is exceptional. And I didn’t live in the past so I don’t how great the United States was or wasn’t.

But all I know … it isn’t that great right now. Let me first qualify. I’m talking about this country’s institutions (i.e. government, etc.) – not its people, well most of them. Most of the people are great.

I don’t know how a country can be great when its government is mired nonsensical partisan dysfunction and incompetence. Petrified in gridlock solidified by selfish ideology detrimental to the constituents it’s there to serve, this is a government bought and paid for by the upper 1%. This is a government filled with those who consider themselves leaders, when the real leaders are living next to you and doing the real work.

I don’t know how a country can be great when it seems it has complete disregard for its future, its children. It has let its public school system fall into rote memorization, standardized testing disrepair. And in addition to that, a good portion of the government wants to cut subsidies to less fortunately children … through no fault of their own, often go hungry.

I don’t know how a country can be great when it lets twenty percent of its population exist in a perpetual welfare state. And instead of coming up with ways to maybe help, the only talk on Capitol Hill is: “How can we add to this percentage by enacting a Hunger Games budget. America to many of them is the land of the survival of the fittest. The rest be damned.

I don’t know how a country can be great when it views its environment as its dumping ground – its toilet. At every turn it blocks international efforts to save the planet, siding with glutenous polluters and narcissistic oil companies instead. And instead of trying to curb further pollution, its government is making inroads turning back clock … back to a dirtier time when coal ruled.

This be an election year, I wish I could say the prospect for governmental leadership in the future looked brighter – but needless to say, I can’t. Our presidential options consist of a career politician who is the very definition of a Washington insider …  and an orange clown who nobody knows what level of Dante’s Hell he could relegate us to. To put our future in the hands of either, thinking they will lead us to the “promised land,” is well … very un-exceptional.

For the record, I have more faith in the insider.

In lieu of all of this, I’ve decided to come up with my own Declaration. I’m going to call it “The Perfect World Declaration” .. in honor of the name of this blog.

“The Perfect World Declaration”

I declare, we the people of the United States of America, break free of the tyranny of thinking the government and all its related institutions are there to act in our, the populace, best interests.

Instead, I declare we take care of ourselves. I also declare we assist our friends and neighbors in taking care of themselves. For what matters most when all else has let us down, is our community. And only we can save our communities.

I declare we not depend on the government’s ill focused education system. But instead, I declare we view ourselves as the primary educators of our children, with whatever coming from the system as an extra benefit. For more is learned in the time outside of school than inside the restrictive walls of the classroom.

And I declare we as humans acknowledge that we are connected to a system greater than just ourselves. Our fates are forever connected to the land, water, air and all its inhabitants – animate or inanimate.

If you take anything from this diatribe – may it be this:

Leave every person, every place and everything better off from you being there.

I believe American exceptionalism lies not its past and definitely not in with government and its constipated institutions. Rather I believe it dwells in the potential of its people to band together and lead – not only here, but also by setting an inclusive progressive view all the world can gain from. But this potential will not surface on its own. It’ll take a collective effort – one that involve a focus of commonalities, not differences.  

Now go out there and make things better … and don’t burn the steak.


I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg.


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