William B. Turner
“Conservatives” love to talk about “American Exceptionalism.” It is true that the United States is exceptional in many ways, but not in the ways “conservatives” like to think. In some accounts, the term “American exceptionalism” derives from the early 19th century, when our unabashedly racist, European, Christian ancestors accepted the idea of “manifest destiny” – the idea that Europeans had a divine mission to spread their version of “civilization” across North America in the form of government by the United States, no matter how many Native Americans they had to kill in the process. We know very little about the cultures, likely beautiful and valuable, they destroyed in their “divine” mission. This is an incorrigible historical error of gargantuan proportions, but such is the zeal of Christian racists.
Theirs was the profoundly sick, Christian racist impulse that, in broad brush fashion, connects Columbus to Donald Trump. It is the core impulse in the United States, one that various persons and groups have tried to overcome at various times in our past, never with much luck because too many white men with too much entrenched power benefit from it and continue to enjoy it. It has engendered all manner of discrimination and vicious violence upon any number of individuals and groups in our history and continues to do so.
At the moment, far from the worst example of this discrimination, not especially violent, unlike good Christian slave owners coercing labor out of their slaves with whips and other forms of brutal punishment, but still disturbing, is the problem of having a profoundly stupid, incompetent person as our president and his fellow partisans refusing to remove him solely out of partisanship. We have no way of knowing how many far more intelligent, competent persons there are, in their living rooms all over the country, watching the disaster in the Whitewash House play out, knowing they could do the job better, either as president or working for a competent president, despairing of a time when sanity will return to the pinnacle of our national government. Even if one wishes to excuse current Republican leaders of the charge of racism – a big if – still, they seem not much interested in addressing the lingering effects of our deeply racist history, or any of the other forms of discrimination and oppression that history has enabled.
It’s hugely demoralizing.
It’s impossible to tell how deep the blind partisan loyalty of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and their Republican fellow travelers runs, but it’s hard to see what the end game is. One supposes they are so enamored with the idea of having power that they just want ever more power for its own sake, but they apparently are incapable of thinking, power over what? Power over a large geographical area traversed with decaying, nearly useless, roads and bridges, populated with ill motivated, uneducated Wal Mart employees?
This be “American exceptionalism”?
The United States does in fact have enormous promise, but the Republicans are obviously utterly incompetent to realize that promise following their current path. There will always be plenty of room to argue over exactly what powers our federal government should have, but if we would be a single nation, we need to have a single government, by definition, and with over 300 million people, it will be a large, complex government.
Or so the Founders believed.
Republicans often complain about the federal government being too big, too powerful, and too costly, but they are transparently disingenuous. They are perfectly happy with a big, powerful, expensive federal government when they see the opportunity to invade another country, for good reason or, more likely, not. They are generally happy to use federal power to make the lives of ordinary people more difficult. They are venal, vicious, and, at best, amoral.
There are any number of important conversations we could be having, should be having, right now, about what our goals as a nation should be and how best to achieve them, but the Republicans are too happy with their rancid status quo to come to the table in good faith. They are happy to ignore anyone they believe will not vote for them. At its best, our government should represent every citizen, and try to pursue policies that will benefit all citizens. One can say that Republican presidents Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower all tried hard to govern in a way that would benefit all citizens. They were honest, upstanding persons.
Eisenhower was the last of that breed. No Republican president since Nixon has been either honest or upstanding. They’re a sorry, depressing lot, not just the presidents, but the sycophants who have enabled them.
We will be shut of their ilk someday. We can hope.