Feature

Some rules apply even to America

Belief in exceptionalism has consequences, because its first tenet is that “the rules don’t apply to us,” said Michael Kinsley in Politico.com.

Michael KinsleyPolitico.com

Belief in “American exceptionalism”—the notion that this country is divinely sanctioned with “a special mission” in the world—has become a litmus test of patriotism, said Michael Kinsley. Indeed, “the theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters.” I find this conceit both puzzling and dangerous. “Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is?”

Belief in exceptionalism has consequences, because its first tenet is that “the rules don’t apply to us.” Thus, when we choose to start a war like the one in Iraq, the United Nations becomes irrelevant; when we lack the money to pay for our benefits and goodies at home, and our world-shaping ambitions abroad, we borrow what we can’t afford. Believing our greatness is destined by the stars, we neglect the hard work and self-sacrifice “necessary to make it true.” Which is why we vote for politicians who promise us tax cuts, entitlement programs, costly foreign nation-building—and balanced budgets. “Why can’t we have calorie-free chocolate cake? We’re Americans!”

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