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Orlov: “American” exceptionalism

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The term “American exceptionalism” has been receiving more than its fair share of play recently. It was pressed into service in the vapid banter that passes for political discourse in the US, with the Republicans accusing Obama of not believing in it. More recently, it surfaced as a term in international relations, when Russian president V. Putin chastised the US for believing it in a NY Times editorial, equating it with chauvinism and lack of respect for the rule of international law. It seems that it is Putin’s dream to extend his cherished concept of “dictatorship of the law” to encompass even the US.

I feel that “American exceptionalism” does exist, and is, in fact, quite pervasive, but not in the way politicians and politicos in the US wish to think. This term, as those in the US are currently attempting to use it, is yet another of their attempts to mangle the language, along with “Libertarianism” that isn’t libertarian (i.e., socialist) and “football” that isn’t football (the entire planet’s favorite team sport). This sort of mangling of international terminology is rather exceptionally obnoxious.
The term “American exceptionalism” was born during a meeting which took place in the spring of 1929 between Joseph Stalin and the US Communist Party leader Jay Lovestone, during which Lovestone argued that workers in the US weren’t interested in socialist revolution. In response, Stalin the seminary drop-out demanded to put an end to this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” Stalin used the term in a mocking way, and something important was lost in translation from Russian “исключительность”, which is closer to “abnormality,” to English “exceptionalism” which has a few positive connotations, whereas in Russian, with the verb “исключить” (to expel) as its base, it is altogether non-aspirational.
Stalin’s taking an exception to “American exceptionalism” aside, Lovestone may at the time have had a valid point. At that time, the US could have been considered to stand a good chance of mitigating the negative effects of capitalism and advancing in the direction of a just and equitable society without resorting to brutal class struggle and violent revolution. The reasons for this had to do with luck: the US had the natural resources, the industrial capacity, a well-organized labor movement and an immigrant population that hadn’t had the time to develop rigid class distinctions.
But just a year later, at the 1930 American Communist convention, it was proclaimed that “the storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism.” While the USSR surged forward, the US wallowed in the mire of the Great Depression and recovered economically only thanks to the gigantic windfall of Word War II, at the end of which it remained as the only industrial nation that hadn’t been bombed to smithereens, flush with natural resources, and with a new-found egalitarian attitude borne of wartime patriotism and a newfound ability to understand each other thanks to the installation of Dayton, Ohio English as the nation’s official dialect. The US reaped another, much smaller windfall with the peaceful collapse and dismantlement of the USSR in 1990, extending its life expectancy by perhaps a decade.
But now this period is well and truly over: the resource base is depleted, the industrial base is in shambles, and society is rapidly degenerating from a class society to a caste society, with a disappearing middle class, an unbridgeable chasm between the haves and the have-nots and the lowest social mobility of any developed nation. If and when the revolution finally comes, I imagine Stalin’s embalmed corpse, resting in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, smiling ever so sweetly.
So much for “exceptionalism” (in quotes); what about “American” (also in quotes)? I am currently working from an undisclosed location south of the US border, where temperatures hover around 85°F, the ocean is pleasantly warm, fresh fruit comes from a nearby jungle, the Internet is high-speed and rent is quite a lot cheaper than what it cost me to heat the boat in Boston. I am still very much in America (without the quotes)—as former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez put it “We are all Americans.”

America, you see, is the term the entire world uses to describe the major land mass of the planet’s western hemisphere comprising some 43 million km2, grouped, for convenience, into North America and South America, and containing 36 countries. But then there is one country that controls well under a quarter of the total landmass and contains just over a third of the population, but which has the gall to call itself “The United States of America.” It is not the only “united states” in America; it is not even the only “united states” in North America because there is also Estados Unidos Mexicanos.

People south of the US border use a different intonation or roll their eyes ever so slightly to signal the difference between America the geographic term and “America” the country that had the impertinence to appropriate it. “Americans” themselves should probably use finger-quotes, to be polite, when they mean to say “America” rather than America.

Getting back to the subject of “American exceptionalism”: I believe that “America” (in quotes) is in some ways exceptional (in Stalin’s original sense of “abnormal”). I will therefore move “exceptionalism” outside the quotes and say a few more things about “American” exceptionalism.
First, “America” has an exceptionally bad government. There is fervent insistence that “America” is a democracy, but a look into the details of the matter discloses a decrepit political structure whose sole purpose is to legitimize privilege, wealth and aggression.

Starting with Congress, its two houses are both founded on systemic corruption. The Senate has two members from each state, be it a huge state like California or a tiny one like North Dakota, making it rather cheap for lobbyists to purchase roughly half the Senate, the rest being somewhat more expensive but still affordable. The House of Representatives is formed by a process called “gerrymandering,” whereby electoral districts are formed in ways that disadvantage the groups which the ruling elite wishes to see underrepresented. The result of this is that, according to numerous opinion polls, members of US Congress are now less popular than lice, cockroaches, colonoscopies, Hitler or Genghis Khan. This august body has been essentially incapable of governing. Its main activity involves enacting legislation which runs into thousands of pages, most of them written by lobbyists, which none of the members can either read or understand.

As a result, President Obama has recently announced his intention to ignore Congress and to start ruling by decree (the local euphemism for “decree” being “executive order”). This is rather typical of presidential régimes that are burdened by a morbid legislature, and, as such, is a step in the right direction. Turning ever so briefly to the supposedly independent judiciary, the US Supreme Court has consistently decided that justice is a matter of wealth and privilege, judging that “free speech” amounts to the right to spend money, and that “corporate persons” have more rights and fewer responsibilities than human ones. And so “America” is no longer a democracy, and although one never hears it from corporate-owned or corporate-funded “American” media, the “Americans” themselves seem well aware of the fact, which is why so few of them bother to vote. Why should powerless people participate in a humiliating face designed to legitimize the power of those who oppress them?
Second, “America” also has an exceptionally bad health care system. The rot started with a very bad mistake—the idea that health care should be tied to employment. It has now degenerated to a point where the medical system eats up a fifth of the country’s economic output, and is drifting in the direction of socialized medicine administered by a powerful group of profit-seeking companies. It produces outcomes that are slightly worse than those of Cuba, where per capita expenditure on health care is just 5% of that in “America.”
Life at an “American” hospital is a non-stop macabre comedy where sleep-deprived interns compulsively poke away at computers while ignoring the patients, and where the hospital profits from their numerous mistakes. Every “American” should know the term nosocomial, which designates medical problems caused by medical care itself. While “American” truck drivers must by law pull over and rest after ten hours behind the wheel, “American” doctors are often required to work 24-hour shifts, not because the decisions they make are so much less important than those made by truck drivers, but because their mistakes drive up profits by causing complications that require additional treatment. The sine qua non of “American” health care is emergency medicine, much of it devoted to keeping elderly patients alive for no good reason, and often against their will—until the money runs out. How much money? Well, a great deal of it, but how much anything costs is kept as a great mystery which is disclosed to patients only after the fact, often as part of a legal effort to bankrupt them.
This is why many “Americans” are discovering that their favorite doctor is, as the saying goes, is “Dr. Blue—Jet Blue.” A quick flight to America proper takes you out of the hands of “American” medical establishment and puts you in the hands of proper American doctors, who tell you how much your treatment will cost beforehand, charge reasonable rates and achieve reasonable results with reasonable effort.
There are other areas in which “America” is exceptional. For the sake of brevity, I will only touch upon one of them, briefly.
“America” has an exceptionally bad foreign policy. A key aspect of “American” foreign policy is that “America” is a sore loser: once defeated and expelled, it goes into a passive-aggressive mode of trying to rewrite history using economic sanctions and covert activities. Cuba overthrew the “American” dictator Fulgencio Batista 55 years ago, but sanctions are still in effect. Similarly with Iran: 35 years after its “American” shah was overthrown, it is still being portrayed as the enemy. Another key aspect of “American” foreign policy is its complete lack of compunction in resorting to political assassination. Luckily, “America” seems to be losing its ability to project power beyond its borders. It ran roughshod over Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan unopposed, it was checked in Libya, and, if all goes well, it will be checkmated in Syria and Iran.
I could go on and on and talk about exceptionally high prison population, exceptionally expensive and ineffective education, exceptionally weak national infrastructure, exceptionally high levels of surveillance, exceptionally high murder rate and so on and so forth, but I hope I have made it clear: “American” exceptionalism is not something for “Americans” to be proud of. How it came about is by no means the fault of the vast majority of “Americans.” If it is anyone’s fault, it is the fault of their ruling class, with its faulty, self-serving, and ultimately self-defeating ideas. There are some impediments making the transition from being “Americans” in quotes to becoming Americans proper—and to accept their birthright as inhabitants of the American continent—but these impediments are mostly mental, cultural and organizational. All of them will have to make that journey sooner or later, as “America” breaks up and disappears in a maelstrom of national bankruptcy, repudiation of federal authority and open revolt.
club orlov


23 Comments on "Orlov: “American” exceptionalism"

  1. rollin on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 12:41 pm 

    I have to stop reading Orlov while eating breakfast, he is so funny.

    Nice humor article. ROFL

  2. dsula on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 12:48 pm 

    Ah come on Orlov. You’re going down the Kunstler way. Just stop, take your boat and sail back to Russia. It’s way better there anyways, ain’t it?

  3. eugene on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 1:22 pm 

    Looks the same from the back woods of Minnesota. I’m amused by both of the previous comments. America is not humorous, especially for those struggling in the lower half. Dsula is interesting with the typical American comment “if you don’t like it, leave”. Decades ago, I learned Americans are extremely thin skinned which is why, of course, we remain such a disastrous mess. Can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror says something about the inability to change.

  4. Makati1 on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 2:04 pm 

    Eugene, rollin and dsula are both either blind, dumb, or on some really good drugs. Above, Orlov paints the best, most accurate, picture of America today that I have ever read.

    “Patriotism” in the US is the result of intensive brainwashing since birth. Similar to religions, it’s hard to change and see the real world by the time you are an adult. Only a few of us can step outside and look in with clear vision. I’m glad you are one of us.

  5. Malarchy on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 2:07 pm 

    Forgive this one’s naive ignorance, but what is so funny about this article? It strikes me as being tragic.

  6. ghung on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 2:09 pm 

    “What kind of place is this?
    Where you almost mean what you say?
    Where laws almost work?
    How can you live like this?!”
    – movie ‘Amistad’

  7. Northwest Resident on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 3:35 pm 

    No doubt about it. America is psychotic. The America that Orwell saw and that inspired his famous work “1984” has only grown increasingly more “Orwellian”. It is all part of the grinding and winding down of this industrial high-tech economy. A lot of people are getting kicked to the curb in America these days, and it is only going to get worse. The wealthy vultures are scavenging what they can and they are doing it with predatory intensity. These days, it is “open season” on suckers and losers in America, and that defines a huge percent of the population. It can’t go on like this forever, and it won’t.

  8. DC on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 4:08 pm 

    Oh, so this an ‘anti-amerikan’ article NW approves of….neat! I thought it would generate howls of rage rather than approval…interesting.

  9. rollin on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 4:24 pm 

    American bashing has become a norm on this site, but at least the author should use some real facts, not tripe. If this is not a fictional comedy article, it’s really sad.

    Mataki(Bill), we’re not blind or dumb; just not full of unfounded hate.

  10. Northwest Resident on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 4:51 pm 

    DC — You tend to exaggerate a lot, I’ve come to understand that. You’ll never get “howls of rage” out of me — not in my writing or in person. Even in my disagreements with some of the things you have written, I have always copped to the fact that America is far from perfect and definitely not innocent of all kinds of atrocities. My main criticisms of what you have written are your insults and name-calling of “ameriKans”, as if they are one big homogenous group all guilty of the crimes and acts that American government has perpetrated — which, they aren’t.

  11. Davy, Hermann, MO on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 5:17 pm 

    “Passe” friends, you are missing the next step in the game. We are global, interconnected, and rely on a delocalized local for survival. Thinking is quickly crossing boarders mixing and diluting. The talk above may be what many think but among those that mater they have a different agenda. Those that matter are above the petty propaganda. It is about control and wealth transfer of the lower 95% and the ecosystem by the global elite that know no boarders. It is the passé thinking of the old world order that shows they have us where they wants us. Keep divided and they conquer! Keep this alive here, they are happy to hear it.

  12. rollin on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 5:31 pm 

    Your right Davy, while we are distracted they are behind us checking to see if we have anything left in our wallets.

  13. J-Gav on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 7:06 pm 

    Malarchy – you’re right , maybe it is more tragic than humorous, but then that’s the Russian sense of humor, French too sometimes.

    Eugene – Yeah, I encountered Dsula’s “like it or leave it” message when I was in college. Another frequent expression was “My country right or wrong,” whatever that’s supposed to mean …

    I won the Vietnam lottery in 1969 and didn’t have to go. But the sheer obscenity of it all induced me to “vote with my feet,” though it was in the opposite direction of what ‘proper Americans’ would have approved of. One of the reasons I’ve lived in Europe for 38 years: the arrogant, self-important, everybody-wants-to-be-like-us attitude which prevailed at the time (have things changed that much?) was just too soul-sickening.

  14. Northwest Resident on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 8:05 pm 

    J-Gav — I think that “arrogant, self-important, everybody-wants-to-be-like-us attitude” is now isolated to the primarily old, white, male and rural-based portion of our population that forms the backbone of one of our highly esteemed political parties. It still exists, it is just a lot meaner and a lot more futile now.

  15. J-Gav on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 8:36 pm 

    NW – I hope you’re right.

  16. action on Tue, 11th Feb 2014 9:53 pm 

    I’m an American, err North American, err United Statesman, yeah that sounds right. The US has serious issues, most stemming from large amounts of dumb people in my professional opinion, but that’s just like anywhere. At least it has room, space I mean. Of course I’m still way too close to dumb people, but at lease I have a job and dont have to live in an apartment. There’s plenty of food. I’ve been around Europe, to Costa Rica, and all over the US, and I think I’d still choose the US. France and Germany are nice, but I dont know what I’d do for work and dont speak the language. Theres some cool people in the US, but they’re not the average person. The USA USA vibe is still going strong though unfortunately. It would be a lot nicer with smarter, less arrogant, less inconsiderate, less self entitled people, more humble people, that dont have a TV education and worship possessions.

  17. JB on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 12:26 am 

    Dmitry, Your wit and sense of irony is not lost, at least on me. You take the ruling class and the politicians to seriously.
    When I was in high school the principal told our class that we were the brightest, most promising and exceptional class in the school’s history. I believed it until I found out later that every class got that same speech. They want to flatter us and endear themselves to us, so we will like them and give them higher marks. Same with politicians.
    And, the media minded public just laps it up, and so they can manipulate and sell the public any hair-brained policy they want. It seems to be an USA trait.
    Just don’t take them so seriously.

  18. Norm on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 7:20 am 

    Americans are exceptionally fat,
    exceptionally stupid
    exceptionally lazy
    exceptionally narcissistic
    exceptionally drug addicted
    exceptionally foolish
    exceptionally pathetic

    sure, i believe in american exceptionalism !!

  19. RICHARD RALPH ROEHL on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 7:55 am 

    Old Coyote Knose… Amerika’s capitalist-fascist foreign policy is delusional, violent and criminally insane. It is nation insane, a vicious police-$tate that preys upon all the peoples of the world. Alas! Behold the evil, war mongering empire…

    The world must rise up and smite the horrible faster poo-food beast that Amerika has become. And a good place to start would be the destruction of the petro-dollar… and the Federal Zionist Reserve Bank.

  20. Dave Thompson on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 10:45 am 

    By the looks of things, I in America as an American, the present and near future are appearing to be much different from the recent past.

  21. rollin on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 2:52 pm 

    Amazing, the closet terrorists and warmongers are coming out in the open. I have seen several posts lately explicitly stating the US should be attacked.
    Of course they are ignorant and have not thought out the ramifications of such an act.

  22. Makati1 on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 3:25 pm 

    Rollin, perhaps we have and it is the best course of action to save what is left of our civilization. Better to cut off your arm to save your body than to let it fester and kill you.

  23. Northwest Resident on Wed, 12th Feb 2014 4:35 pm 

    Norm — You forgot one: America is exceptionally militaristic. When the last drop of energy is squeezed out of the world, it will go to feed the American military. The American military is what keeps this world duct-taped together — without their presence and threat of deadly force, hundreds of lurking dangers would be unleashed with immediately catastrophic consequences. The American military is the world’s “immune system”, always on alert to attack and destroy threats to the established order — and among the little people, of course, there is a lot of debate as to what constitutes a threat — but the American military and TPTB that control the American military make the final decision on that. If anybody has any doubt about the American military’s intensity when it comes to winning and persevering, think again.

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