Tag Archives: American Exceptionalism

Insights And Prescriptions

Evidently, I’m not the only person who writes more about problems than solutions–and gets criticized for it. I recently came across a column by someone named Scott Galloway that began with a similar concession.

Galloway began by acknowledging criticizism for focusing on tech, business or social problems, and not proposing solutions. “Well, guilty as charged, I suppose. But let me say two things.

First, these problems flow in part from failures of perception and awareness. My cohort of economically successful people vastly overestimates our own contribution to our success. Society has been telling us that our nice homes and fancy cars must mean we’re hard-working geniuses, and why should we argue the point? The flip side is also true. Society tells those who’ve been dealt a bad hand, who’ve never caught a break, that their failure must come from a lack of grit, an incapacity to dream big. I believe that just pulling the veil of hype that’s been laid across our unequal society is part of the solution to that inequality….

Second, to be blunt, things are really fucking bad. The dashboard of threats, from inflated asset values to irreversible climate change to armed assaults on government proceedings, is flashing red and getting worse. If I spent my entire public life pointing out the risks we face, I would never run out of material.

Those points made, Galloway also points to the ways in which America is, truly, “exceptional.” Certainly not perfect, but he acknowledges a point I have frequently made: what sets us apart is that this nation wasn’t born out of ethnicity or dynastic conquest, but  on the foundation of an ideal, what I’ve referred to in my own books as “The American Idea.”  Galloway says that fact does set us apart; “it holds a special promise. It remains a promise unfulfilled, but one I believe is within our grasp.”

He says that “we’ve gotten closest to realizing our ideals when we’ve balanced ruthless capitalism with the ballast of a strong middle class. We’ve drifted off that course” and he follows that observation with five recommendations to help us find it again. Those recommendations are: simplification of the tax code; reform of Section 230 and incarceration policy; imposition of a one-time wealth tax; and a rebranding of nuclear power.

You can read his reasoning for each of these prescriptions at the link. I have no particular dispute with any of them, although I would add–and prioritize– more civic education and support for the nation’s public schools, and a concerted effort to counter the “veil of hype” he refers to in his opening paragraphs.

So long as well-to-do and financially comfortable Americans can reassure themselves that their economic good fortune is a reflection of superior merit–that poor folks are disadvantaged because they are lazy or lack “middle-class values” and not because of structural and/or systemic social barriers they’ve encountered–we will fail to achieve the very real promise of a country that–despite all its imperfections–has aspired to an ideal of equality of opportunity.

A friend of mine used to remind me that curing disease requires both an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate prescription. An accurate diagnosis of our social ills has to go beyond the obvious manifestations–observations along the lines of “oh look, there are homeless people sleeping under that bridge.” It requires us to figure out just why those people are homeless, and why our society has failed to provide appropriate interventions.

As Galloway notes, social media currently feeds some of our more dysfunctional and harmful impulses. What is it about our legal framework that allows or incentivizes its use to convey misinformation and disinformation, and what changes to that framework are most likely to ameliorate the situation?

In other words–and in defense of those of us constantly pointing to problems that need fixing–we need to accurately diagnose the roots of our problems, and then consider what prescriptions might cure them.

But in order to come up with an accurate diagnosis, we do need civic literacy–an accurate understanding of our history and the institutions that shaped–or failed to shape–that history.


Hitting The Ball Out Of The Park

Despite the headline, this isn’t about George Will’s love of baseball.

I’m not a fan of Will…and that’s putting it mildly. Even when I agree with him, I find his intellectual arrogance off-putting. But fair is fair–a recent column in which he compares Trump to Boris Johnson is delicious.

As people who follow news from “across the pond” probably know, Johnson is currently in danger of losing a vote of confidence. It turns out that, at the same time he was sternly lecturing Brits on the necessity of adhering to strict COVID restrictions, he was ignoring those restrictions and partying. A lot.

Apparently, he shares Trump’s belief that rules are for the “little people,’ and don’t apply to him.

Will’s column addresses the multiple characteristics they share. Both, for example, are inveterate liars. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson might survive, for a number of reasons, one being that he, like two of the five most recent U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton and Donald Trump), has the awesome strength that comes from being incapable of embarrassment. Also, to his critics he can fairly respond: “What did you expect?”

He has never disguised his belief that in any situation, truthfulness is merely one option among many, and not to be preferred over more advantageous or just more entertaining choices. As Winston Churchill said of another politician (evidently Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin), he “occasionally had stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”…

Writing in the Financial Times, Rory Stewart, a former Conservative cabinet minister now teaching at Yale University, says Johnson “is a terrible prime minister and a worse human being. But he is not a monster newly sprung from a rent between this world and the next.” A majority of Conservative MPs voted to make him prime minister after “thirty years of celebrity made him famous for his mendacity, indifference to detail, poor administration, and inveterate betrayal of every personal commitment.” This, Stewart says, is because British culture “remains trapped by the idea that politics is a game.”

Will notes that “mortification loves company” so Americans should feel marginally better from the fact that England has produced a head of government as “shambolic and careless” about truth as our recent president.

However, Will identifies a “deflating difference” between Great Britain and the U.S. Johnson’s net favorability rating has fallen from +29 percent in April 2020 to -52 percent in January 2022, while those Americans who favor Trump “are bound to him as with hoops of steel, come what may.”  

In a felicitous and absolutely accurate phrase, we are told that “total indifference to evidence is today’s ‘American exceptionalism.’”

There is more than a little truth to that conclusion, and it goes beyond the willingness of far too many Americans to ignore the plentiful evidence that Trump is bat-shit crazy. Faced with 900,000 deaths, including those of friends, family and neighbors,  large numbers of Americans still insist either that COVID is a hoax or that vaccinations are more dangerous. Faced with rapidly escalating weather anomalies and literally mountains of scientific evidence, they continue to dismiss the “myth” of climate change. When it comes to economic policy, they cling to their belief that a higher minimum wage will depress job creation in the face of significant and growing evidence to the contrary. 

Despite official FBI  reports that the massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed the murder of George Floyd were 95% peaceful, they continue to insist that mobs rampaged through the streets looting stores and burning cities.

Despite copious video evidence of the violence of the January 6th insurrection, they defend the lunatics assaulting police officers and vandalizing the nation’s Capitol, claiming they were engaged in  “legitimate political discourse.”

I could go on, and most of you reading this could add examples of your own.

This stubborn refusal even to consider evidence, or be swayed by it, has become the only real platform of today’s Republican Party–a party whose base has adopted as its informal motto “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” 

Even the Brits who really thought Brexit was a good idea have responded to the evidence of Boris Johnson’s malfeasance. Only in America are members of one of our major political parties absolutely impervious to facts, logic and evidence. 

American exceptionalism indeed…..