I woke up today feeling jaded and cynical about the claims that some Americans make about our country, so I thought I post a short rant. Enjoy.
Americans, especially American politicians, have goten quite comfortable that America is the “greatest country on earth.” In short, many believe in “American Exceptionalism,” the idea that America is qualitatively different from every other country on earth; i.e. there is something in the “essence” of America that makes it better than every other country.
At the risk of With almost certainty that I will be labeled “unAmerican” or as someone who “hates America,” I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with this sentiment. This disagreement lays on numerous foundations, chief of which is the fact that America claims the moral high ground in almost every situation, yet cannot seem to adhere to those same moral codes itself.
During the Arab Spring earlier this year, cable news outlets gave 24 hour coverage of the events in Egypt and Libya (though not as much in Tunisia) and yet when our own citizens engage in civil disobedience, we largely turn a blind eye. Don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s called Occupy Wall Street, a movement calling on people to peacefully protest the greed that runs rampant on Wall St. and the financial collapse of 2008 that was largely caused by practices of those on Wall St. Sounds like a fine, democratic right that they should have, even if you disagree with their message. Yet, some of these protestors have been the victims of alleged police brutality, a theme which dominate media coverage of the events in Tahrir Square, but which is getting minimal coverage when it happens to our own citizens. See this video where protestors, who have been corralled and penned against a building by a mesh barrier, are pepper sprayed by an NYPD officer (caution contains explicit language. Note one officer saying of the other office, “I can’t believe he just F***in’ maced her):
Read Jeanne Mansfield’s, the videographer here, piece, Why I Was Maced at the Wall Street Protest.
To give you an idea of the attitude of some of the NYPD, NYC Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne had this to say about the protestors:
Protestors who engage in civil disobedience can expect to be arrested. Those who resist arrest can expect some measure of force will be used.
I understand that if someone breaks the law, they can be arrested and that force can be expected if they resist, but is this the legacy of civil disobedience we have inherited? Further, from the videos I’ve seen and the reports I’ve heard I haven’t seen large scale law breaking, though NY has gotten creative, using a 150 year old law banning masks to arrest some of the protestors.
Next, let’s talk about the Geneva Conventions, those pesky pieces of paper that “establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment for the victims of war.” America expects other countries to fight according to these standards, but doesn’t think it has to itself, specifically when it comes to torture. Dick Cheney, former Vice President, has consistently upheld the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” what everyone else in the world calls torture, such as waterboarding. He did this while he vice president and even in his most recent book, In My Time, yet the Geneva Conventions expressly forbid the use of any form of torture.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
American Exceptionalism, though, means that we don’t define things like torture the same way for us as we do for other countries, specifically our enemies.
These are only two examples of hypocrisy I see in our country; there are plenty more. But, does all of this mean I hate America? Absolutely not. I love this country, but I love other countries as well. I think there are great people in America and I think there are great people all over the world. Is America exceptional? Of course, in many ways, but there are other countries that exceed us in many areas too. We now only rank “average” in education:
The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.
Other countries have more affordable health care, more equal civil liberties, and we now have 46.2 million people living in poverty in this country, the highest number on record.
We are great, but the greatest? I don’t think so.