This is a Fourth tinged with sad ironies. Can we put the occasion to any good use? Near the end of a much more terrible national ordeal, Abraham Lincoln urged Americans: "Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from.” Good advice. We should try.
A traditional theme of the rhetoric of the Fourth is the celebration of “American exceptionalism.” That phrase has acquired a boastful overtone, which is why President Obama famously handled it so diffidently. "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
“American exceptionalism" began its career, however, not as a boast, but as a question.
Over the next decades, however, as both democracy and market economics became accepted facts across the developed world, the question changed form. Even pre-Trump, it was hard to argue that the United States was a consistently more liberal society than Germany or Britain, let alone Denmark or Canada. In some ways, yes: Free speech is more protected in the United States than other places. In some ways, no: The right to vote is better protected almost everywhere else in the democratic world than in the United States.
But most of the compliments Americans paid themselves half a century ago ring hollow in the 21st century. In 2010, as a rising star in the Tea Party movement, Marco Rubio delivered the keynote address at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. He told his own inspiring personal story and credited it to the unique opportunities of the United States. "The result is an America where—which is the only place in the world where it doesn't matter who your parents were or where you came from. You can be anything you are willing to work hard to be. The result is the only economy in the world where poor people with a better idea and a strong work ethic can compete and succeed against rich people in the marketplace and competition.” None of that is true, and in important ways it is the opposite of the truth. Who your parents were and where you came from matters probably more in the United States than in most other advanced economies, at least if statistics on upward mobility are to be believed.
As I said: pre-Trump. Now the United States has elected a president who seems much more aligned with—and comfortable in the company of—the rulers of Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines than his counterparts in other highly developed countries.
That result forces a reshaping of the question of American exceptionalism.
“Why was the United States vulnerable to such a person when other democracies have done so much better?” Part of the answer is a technical one: The Electoral College, designed to protect the country from demagogues, instead elected one. But then we have to ask: How did Trump even get so far that the Electoral College entered into the matter one way or another?
Nor has that elite learned its lessons. Look at the progress of the Republican health-care bill through the House and Senate. The authors of the bill are acutely aware of how despised it is, how much more despised it will be once it goes into effect: That’s precisely why they have broken through all normal legislative processes, why they do not hold hearings, why they conceal its elements, why they outright lie about its effect. Even so, only fewer than one in five Americans support what they wish to do. Rather than make any attempt to build consensus—never mind to make adjustments that could gain broader consent—a small leadership group is pushing through. Some of those leaders are dogmatically sure that they are correct, no matter what anybody else thinks. Others are heedless of consequences for anyone but their supporters and donors. Still others feel cynically certain that if they can prevail now against the numbers, they can use the inertia of the American system to prevent the large majority who opposed them from reversing their actions.
Only in America, as the saying goes. This Fourth of July, however, it is harder to say with pride.
" Brian Synder / Reuters DAVID FRUM JUL 3, 2017 POLITICS Share Tweet …
'via Blog this'