Friday, April 14, 2017

I used to laugh... people, like Sarah Palin, who talked about "American Exceptionalism." I mean, come on, do people really think that the United States was somehow "endowed by its Creator" to be superior to all other nations? Isn't that kind of a childish notion? (I even read during Mitt Romney's run for the White House that some Mormons believe that the U. S. Constitution was "divinely inspired." Good grief!)

And then I woke up in the middle of the night recently and remembered who was president of the United States. And I realized, in that moment, that up until now I had also believed -- without even knowing it -- in American Exceptionalism. Like everyone else, I guess, I was raised to believe that the U. S. was the greatest country in the history of the world. Unlike Sarah Palin, though, I just didn't go around saying so. (I didn't have to; it was implied.) If you had asked me, at any point up until the evening of November 8 of last year, that someone as woefully unprepared and unfit for the highest office in the land as Donald Trump could be elected president I would have said, "No; it just couldn't happen. No one without at least some experience in government or the military (or a real businessman) could ever get elected. Without exception -- even George W. Bush, who was a governor and the son of a former president -- all of our chief executives in over 200 years have been at least minimally qualified to be president."

And then, somehow, a boob like Donald Trump managed to accidentally get himself elected and now we have to face up to that reality every day until at least January, 2021. (And I'd say more like January, 2025, as incumbents are really, really hard to beat. See: Bush, George W.) And, as a result, we not only have to admit that American Exceptionalism is a bunch of baloney, but that we all really believed in it until now.

I bring this up today after reading two pieces in the New York Times. The first is "Trump Learns Simple Issues Are Rarely So" (in the print edition), by Peter Baker, in which the author explains that President Trump (Gosh it hurts to write that!) was as unprepared for the White House as we had suspected all along.

Guess what, everyone: we're all stuck with this clown. And he isn't even as qualified as W. or Calvin Coolidge or even Millard Fillmore. So much for American Exceptionalism.

The second piece is by T. R. Reid, "The I.R.S. Could Be Your Friend." (Why are all the titles in the print edition different from those online?) The gist of that one is, many other developed countries collect taxes in a much more efficient way than The Greatest Country in the History of the World. Surprised? Well, if you read Mr. Reid's book on health care, "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care," as I did, you might also come away with the feeling that the United States doesn't necessarily have the Greatest Health Care System in the World. But, but -- American Exceptionalism!

Turns out that not only do we not deliver health care as well or as cheaply or as thoroughly as other developed countries, but apparently we don't collect taxes as well either. Go figure.

And, I hate to tell you this, but it seems we don't always elect the most capable person to our highest office either. In fact, I can think of at least one time when we elected someone downright unfit for the office. Just like a child who finds out for the very first time that his father is not Superman,* I'm discovering that America just might not be all that different from, or better than, the rest of the nations in the world. (And, I have to admit, that stings a little.) Don't believe me? Just look at that picture at the top of this post.

Maybe the first step in achieving "exceptionalism," is admitting you're not all that exceptional in the first place.

* I think that moment came for my older son when he saw me fall into the reflecting pool in front of the library after a Notre Dame football game. And I was sober!

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