July 13, 2009

I get so tired of hearing about U.S. exceptionalism. Actually, the U.S. is really behind other countries in many ways.

The U.S. used to be #1 in access to the Internet, in most things Internet. Now we’re really behind. The U.S. ranks #15 or so for broadband connectivity. We have laws and regulations that give primacy to for-profit corporations and screw anyone else (e.g., a nonprofit) who tries to provide broadband access in communities. It costs $3 / megabyte for broadband connectivity in the U.S. And only 4 cents to 50 cents in Japan for the same.

People in the U.S. continue to talk about our top quality healthcare. But we’re really behind. The U.S. ranks something like #13 in quality and cost of healthcare worldwide. And we have so many uninsured. And we have high levels of infant mortality. And…

The U.S. ranks something like #82 in the number of women elected to the top federal legislative body, e.g., the U.S. Congress. #82!

And how about our food safety? Oops, not so good. And how about our commitment to improving the environment? We’re behind the European Union in that.

How did the U.S. get so far behind?

Hey, it’s not how. I think it’s why. Because we’re so enraptured with our own exceptionalism that we don’t notice how far behind we’ve gotten. Because our elected leaders don’t have the guts to tell us the truth and fight for what is right. Because the U.S. almost always defaults to whatever for-profit corporations want. Because the U.S. focuses on the individual rather than the good of the community.

Here’s a great description of the U.S. attitude from Andrew Bacevich, retired military officer and noted historian. I read this in the 07-06-09 issues of The Nation magazine, Eric Alterman’s column.

“A tendency to equate anti-colonialism with opposition to empire as such…;

“An insistence that American values are universal values, leading to this corollary: ‘other peoples cannot really solve their problems and improve their lives unless they go about it in the same way as the United States’;

“A…commitment to the principle of self-determination informed by the conviction that ‘all peoples must ultimately self-determine themselves in the American Way if America itself is to be secure and prosperous’…;

“A penchant for externalizing evil…’

“A reflexive predilection for demonizing adversaries…’

“A belief that the American economy cannot function absent opportunities for external expansion…;

“A steady, if unacknowledged, drift toward militarization…’

“An unshakable confidence in American Exceptionalism and American beneficence…”

As Alterman notes in his article, the U.S. doesn’t behave this way because it’s cynical or evil. But for me, the end result is the same. I believe that far too many leaders and citizens of the U.S. embrace U.S. exceptionalism. And this arrogant and patronizing belief plays out locally, regionally, and globally.

One can love one’s country without fulfilling the description proffered by Bacevich. Sadly, the U.S. doesn’t. I sure hope that the U.S. gets over itself pretty darn soon. Just look at our performance. Just look.

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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