To the editor:
In his Feb. 17 definition of “American Exceptionalism” on this page, Leo Morris points to some of the first-evers, like our treasured documents establishing the basic rights of citizens, the rejection of monarchy, and the rule of law. Wise words. These brilliant documents are a landmark moment for civil governance, and many democracies worldwide have adopted replicas and live by them.
However, these days, American Exceptionalism is conventionally understood to mean the USA is “superior over other nations ... having a unique mission to transform the world.” Not my words: that’s Wikipedia’s current, crowd-sourced definition.
In one lifetime, we have witnessed US-sponsored assassinations and overthrows. The Tuskegee Study. The FBI defamation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Red-lining (discriminatory loan and investment practices). The Gulf of Tonkin charade. The Pentagon Papers. Installing Chile’s dictator Pinochet. Agent Orange in Vietnam. Iran-Contra death squads. The School of the Americas. Iraq’s never-found weapons of mass destruction. CIA tortures. Abu Ghraib. Prisoner renditions. Refugee children in cages, separated from parents. Support of apartheid nations. The defamation and ruination of countless civil servants and courageous whistle blowers. Deliberate pandemic misinformation.
These are not incidental mistakes or one-off failures. Instead, they are successive moral catastrophes, bringing staggering pain to generations of victims who won’t forget. Nor should we. Would our own leaders lie to hide an indigestible truth from us? Oh, yes, just as power is wedded to PR.
How many more skeletons remain in the nation’s closet? Responsible news media prompt us to maintain both vigilance and humility in a world where power, indeed, corrupts. Until flushed out into the bright light of day, above the fold on page one, our nation’s ugliest moments remain classified, allowing the guilty parties to escape accountability.
The columnist concludes with “The more mistakes we make, the more we demonstrate how much we are needed.” That makes American Exceptionality sound like a get-out-of-jail-free card, and ours has been played too many times. Exceptionality, if such a thing exists, will prove itself without exception.