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Are We Really Exceptional? Part I

October 30th, 2013 | Posted by David Whitfield in Social Justice

Ah, America’s dance with Exceptionalism! Exceptionalism to me means special, erudite, or wise, not mean, insolent, arrogant, or conceited, pretentious. Being number one does not always ensure wisdom or brilliance. In my view, we fall under the notable and remarkable references as we hold the number one position as jailer of the world. According to Charles Murray, author, America is no longer the unique nation it thought. Having the most guns per capita and the highest murder rate than other industrialized nations is not Exceptionalism. This is not what we think of when we couple the United States with Exceptionalism.
Not to bore you with exceptional statistics, but a few points for consideration may be in order: a large number of American citizens are in poverty; many are without health care; less than a third have a college education; approximately one-third is functionally illiterate; one-half is innumerate. Racial profiling is rampant; war against women is relentless; elimination of public schools is ongoing; violence in schools is increasing. The list goes on. How do these behaviors make America Exceptional? And what does this portend for this nation state?
Given the above mentioned conditions, and many, many more, if America doesn’t change its thinking and behavior, not only will it not be exceptional, it will not be the nation it once was; for over 70 years I have watched our Exceptionalism be snuffed out by our avoidance of accuracy, fairness, equity, and social justice for all. Our avoidance of sitting in the pain of our country’s status such as: broken, struggling, eroding, in transition, entrenched, you pick a descriptor.
This is a wonderful country; yet, our leaders work very hard to ruin it; our leaders abuse their position and their privilege; they abuse the civility of its citizens; meaning, the citizens are tolerant, docile, forgiving—often too much so. And the abusers continue to exploit with abandon. Greed is the driver; money is the fuel that feeds the greed machine.
Finally, I will submit, having traveled much of the world, served in a variety of leadership roles, watched people respond to the USA over the years, I see a shift in the world’s dialogue. I hear changes about how we are viewed, valued, and tolerated. I see the strain and I anticipate if the national leaders don’t change, if the national leadership structure doesn’t change, America will fall as other empires.
Why are we attached to this notion of Exceptionalism? What are your thoughts?
Stay tuned for Part II

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2 Responses

  • Madelyn Harvey says:

    I would agree Dr. Whitfield, exceptionalism has to be questioned when there are so many social problems in this country that hinder individuals from making progress. Most concerning is the number of high school graduates who are unprepared for college. The issues you mention with respect to poverty, the uninsured, and those who are illiterate have to be addressed if America is to remain a world leader. One of the reasons our leaders are unable to comprehend issues related to those who are at a disadvantage is because most are elitist. If a grass roots approach were to be incorporated in the world of politics, we might foresee some change.

    • Madelyn,
      Thank you so very much for your response! You are absolutely right about the elite; they don’t have to care about those who are in need, functionally illiterate, or hungry, homeless; they have theirs and for most of them whatever they have was in all probability, obtained through ill-gotten means. Meaning, they got it through violence, greed, cheating, corruption, etc. There are exceptions, of course. I too, believe the grassroots approach is perhaps the best way to bring about change, especially in our school systems. Until we come together regarding schools in our communities, we will not improve our educational systems. Finally, when it comes to equitable access to social services such as education and employment, the challenges will remain; and we will never close the academic achievement gap until we close the academic opportunity gap. I thank you again.

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