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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putin on American Exceptionalism

In our textbook, we discuss American exceptionalism. Vladimir Putin writes in The New York Times:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Are his last lines sincere? Putin rose through the ranks of Soviet intelligence (the KGB).  He now claims membership in the Russian Orthodox Church, but that organization was subservient to the KGB.

Sincere or not, Putin's remark echo those of some American commentators and political figures.

  • Richard E. Cohen of the Washington Post"Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter. And yet clearly America must change fundamentally or continue to decline. It could begin by junking a phase that reeks of arrogance and discourages compromise. American exceptionalism ought to be called American narcissism. We look perfect only to ourselves."
  • Michael Kinsley, at Politico:  "This conceit that we’re the greatest country ever may be self-immolating. If people believe it’s true, they won’t do what’s necessary to make it true. The Brits, who suffer no such delusion (and who, in fact, cherish the national myth of being people who smile through adversity), have just accepted cuts in government spending that no American politician — even a tea bagger — would dream of proposing. Maybe these cuts are a mistake or badly timed, but when the British voted for “change,” they really got it."
  • Patrick Smith, at Salon: "To remain as we are, clinging to our myths and all that we once thought made us exceptional, would be to make of our nation an antique, a curiosity of the eighteenth century that somehow survived into the twenty-first. Change occurs in history, and Americans must accept this if they choose to change."
  • Stephen M. Walt, at Foreign Policy: "The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth. Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities -- from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom -- the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics. By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else."
  • Bill Maher: "I always say in a hundred years this country will be Mormon. It's a stupid religion and a stupid country, they were made for each other and I tell you, one of the things that Americans are going to love about Mormonism, when they find about it, is, first of all, Jesus is an American, and they love the idea that Mormon's embrace, more than anybody, that 'we are the super-duper star spangled best country ever and that if we have any flaw it is that we feel other countries feel bad because our awesomeness is so overwhelming.' But I think we should get over it."