Hallowed and Hollowed American Exceptionalism

A resounding refrain of the right and the Tea Party centers on the notion of American Exceptionalism — a shorthand for the moral authority for the US to pursue its interests as it chooses . The most important keystone to this refrain is the claim and assertion by the right as the rightful and defacto stewards of American Exceptionalism.

In reality, what the right pursues under the mantle of American Exceptionalism — limitless wars and interventions in the Middle East, unfunded tax cuts, widening income inequality, blithe disregard for science, class warfare on the least privileged — stems not from policies meant to embrace or embody the ideals that bring forth Exceptionalism. Instead it originates from a desire to enforce what they deem to be their exceptional view of the world. And what makes this ideology so exceptional , and so profoundly dangerous, centers on its utter disconnect to the reality of governance in a country with more than 300 million people and with an economic engine producing a GDP of nearly $16 trillion dollars.

If we examine the current debt ceiling and government shutdown in light of the right’s disconnect from the reality of governance, we see how we find ourselves precisely at this point. 

Faced with economic and social complexity that undermines and challenges their ideology, the right, with the vehement support of the Tea Party, simply refuses to acknowledge such a challenge.

That is why the default of the US, if the debt ceiling is not raised, draws praise and encouragement from the right even though the economic reality indicates that it is a poorly conceived, and even a disastrous course for the nation. Ironically, the US currency and treasuries are indisputably exceptional in the world of global finance — it is why we enjoy a low cost of capital and inflow of foreign investment into our treasuries. But this matters little to the ideologues as they can assert the opposite — the default of the US will be seen as a positive signal by investors, both domestic and foreign. This is beyond delusional; it takes what is exceptional, and for the sake of ideology, jettisons our very exceptional economic advantage for the sake of “principles” that lack any credible economic foundation.

To suggest that uncertainty and risk around US treasuries helps us in the long-term or simply does not matter is simply laughable. Of course, this delusion plays well with the Tea Party who simply ignore any reality inconsistent with their ideology.

It’s a similar disdain for the reality of our health care system which by any objective measure costs much more and delivers worse outcomes than other developed countries. To the right, health care is a privilege accorded by your economic standing. The gross imperfections in how health care is managed, delivered and how it now consumes 18% of our GDP — and still growing — matters little as long as it ostensibly remains a free market system, of which it is not. Real concerns on the costs and accessibility in health care get nicely swept aside as a mere suggestion to evaluate other functioning frameworks for health care no longer makes our healthcare exceptional– gasp– it makes us European or Canadian!

Therefore, for us to remain exceptional, we have to accept our current woefully unexceptional health care system for otherwise, we lose what makes us exceptional. Or worse, we become appeasers to Obamacare, ostensibly the Nazis:

“If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany,” Cruz said. “Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.’”

What the Tea Party and Ted Cruz rely upon with such rhetoric is the tacit claim to the mantle of American Exceptionalism and its underlying moral authority. Why invoke Nazis if not to claim a superior moral standing or to suggest the moral failings of your adversary? Or, perhaps, the Nazis were simply misunderstood in their ambitions — maybe they just wanted to dominate Europe so they could offer a single payer health care system.

Moving on, let’s probe a bit here on the underlying moral authority justifying the shutdown of the government to defund health care.

First, the health care reform laws and regulations proceeded through our legislative, executive and judicial process per the Constitution. As the health care law was supported by the Supreme Court, the claim to its being unconstitutional is simply false. You can claim it is, like the right, but it is objectively not so. I can claim my dog is actually an elephant but that does not make it so. Even if I declare that in the Senate or House chambers.

Second, the right clearly favors more government when it comes in the form of defense spending or surveillance or other favored programs. While they cry at how we lose “freedom” with Obamacare, they find no qualms in an ever growing surveillance and military state that erodes individual freedoms. In that case, security trumps freedom. Of course, security does not extend to economic security — that’s a socialist construct.

As a corollary, we can spend large portions of our current and future GDP, expand our debt and encumber a new generation with the costs of war but we cannot take even some of that spending to make health care more affordable and accessible. Apparently saying “Thank you for your service” to veterans matters more than actually providing them health care.

Third, the right remains in a Panglossian state on the state of our health care — it is truly the best of all possible worlds. The fact that millions cannot afford health care and likely suffer along a spectrum of woes from the lack to health services matters little. Nor does it matter that the data points to our system as overpriced and underperforming. What does matter is that right perpetuates the notion of health care as a privilege — think of it as an iPhone 6 — which some of us should get and some of us should not.

If it is a privilege, then we should have no moral qualms about denying care to those who simply cannot afford insurance: the uninsured mother-to-be delivering a child; the indigent senior with Alzheimers in a nursing home confined to a bed; the uninsured worker facing a serious illness. If it is simply a privilege then we can comfortably turn away from each and everyone offering nothing but a fleeting thought of sympathy, if even that. Nothing more is required of us. This is the Randian ideal.

I disagree.

Disregarding a rational civics, failing a basic understanding of our system of governance and our Constitutional process, and offering no practical approaches to solving our complex economic and social challenges hardly makes us exceptional. It makes us hollow, just like they are.

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