AMERICA DECIDES 2020: IS IT TIME TO RE-IMAGINE “AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM”?

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By Washington Osiro

Even as I acknowledge that “Hindsight is 20/20,” one would have to suspend credulity, create a parallel universe, or exhibit severe case of cognitive dissonance to dismiss the last four years under President Donald J. Trump as “un-American” or “aberrations.”

Donald Trump’s first and only term as POTUS was neither.

To most minorities, America’s white supremacist, hypocritical, selfish, and xenophobic ethos shamelessly brought to life under the Trump Administration had always lurked underneath the country’s veneer, conveniently and invariably described as her “better angels” working towards the formation of “a more perfect Union.”

For most, if not all African Americans and minorities, the promise that “all men are created equal” or the proclamation that these United States assures “justice and liberty for all” have always been that – promises – albeit ones inconsistently kept – especially for its minority communities.

To be sure, America has come a long way from its slave-owning, black-male lynching days of Jim Crowism and the wholesome violation of the human and civil rights of its non-white citizens. However, for a society that frequently presents itself as a beacon of light and hope to the world’s “tired, poor, and hurried masses”, the last four years have been anything but. These years have been a rude awakening for those who believed in America’s self-professed ideals. The years since January 20, 2017 have been disheartening for those who gave the Donald Trump-led Republican Party several chances to self-correct; to embody the party’s oft-cited ideals of patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution – even as incident after incident illustrated a man and a predominantly white party whose collective pride in country and its ideals were at best, selective and convenient.

Donald Trump’s America exposed, then exacerbated America’s deep-seated systemic and structural shortcomings that overwhelmingly favored its white majority – at the expense of its black and brown citizenry. It did so with nary a salve from the man or his fervent group of supporters. For a country that lectures others about respecting the “democratic process” and “counting every vote,” the head spinning “Count Every Vote” and “Stop the Count” battle cries of the incumbent’s campaign and his seventy million strong support base shortly after the November 3rd polls provided stark illustrations of America’s hypocrisy and its Do-as-I-Say-Not-as-I-Do character.

The sobering reality is that millions of Americans elected THEN sought to re-elect someone whose conduct consistently belied EVERYTHING they teach their children to reject sans equivocation.

“The Atlantic’s” Tim Nichols is unequivocal and unforgiving in his assessment of the last four years. In a piece titled “A Large Portion of the Electorate Chose a Sociopath,” he wrote that seventy million American voters “…..saw Trump in all of his splendor – his infantile tirades, his disastrous and lethal policies, his contempt for democracy in all its forms – and decided that they wanted more of it…..” These and other less flattering characterizations by Nichols and other journalists have exposed the tenuity of the construct of American Exceptionalism. In describing the construct, Alexis de Tocqueville (American Democracy) and Seymour Lipset (American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword) argued that Americans saw their country’s evolution after the revolution as “inherently different from that of other nations,” i.e., exceptional. Sociologist Lipset further offered that America, the “first new nation,” developed a unique ideology – “Americanism” – based on liberty, equality before the law, personal responsibility, representative democracy, and capitalism. The reality is that few fair-minded Americans can look back at the last four years in their country and conclude that the conduct and utterances of their leader have embodied respect for the values and ideals they hold dear: personal freedom, equality before the law, democratic ideals and attendant institutions of government and society writ large.

While there are cogent and compelling philosophical and ideological reasons why nearly half the US electorate support/ed Donald Trump, I keep coming back to what James Baldwin said: “We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.

There is something unseemly about supporting someone who repeatedly sees those who do not agree with them or look like them as less-than, as “those other people.”

There is something un-Christian about enabling someone who rejoices in the misfortunes of others, of the least among them.

No amount of tax relief or favorable Supreme Court justice picks can explain away the callous response to the deliberate asphyxiation, on video, of an unarmed man, by someone sworn to protect and serve. No amount of deregulation can justify equating supremacists, skinheads, and Neo-Nazis with those protesting these groups whose raison d’etre is unmitigated hatred.

Over the last four years, the list of actions and behaviors diametric to the Exceptional or Shining City on a Hill tags historians, social scientists, and politicians bestowed onto America is endless. The list also makes it tempting for those who have borne the brunt of Trump’s America to respond in kind.

Surprisingly and fortunately, they have not – as it should be.

Could part of that “exceptionalism” be America’s ability to navigate the last four years of toxic tribalism – without degenerating into a blood-letting civil war – as some of them exact revenge against their perceived tormentors?

Could American Exceptionalism be the ingenuity of its democratic system? America’s government is comprised of independent and co-equal branches of government and institutions which appear to be designed to bend, maybe too much to the whims of a wannabe despot, without breaking – and eventually pushing back and self-correcting.

Maybe it is America’s ability to near-seamlessly bring into its fold, the son of goatherder from Kenya and daughter of an Indian cancer researcher from Tamil Nadu, Southern India, and allow them to rise to the pinnacle of global power.

Could American Exceptionalism be the reason why I continue to ask myself whether part-Luo Barrack H. Obama or part-Tamil Kamala D. Harris would have scaled these very heights of success and power in Kenya or India?

 

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