Yes, America is “Exceptional”

I read an article in Salon.com this morning that teasingly asked, “Has America gone crazy?” The author,  American globetrotter Ann Jones, then went on to ask some serious – and disturbing – questions.

Ms. Jones says that Americans are increasingly viewed as strange by the rest of the world. Here’s the first paragraph of her article, originally published by TomDispatch.com:

Americans who live abroad — more than six million of us worldwide (not counting those who work for the U.S. government) — often face hard questions about our country from people we live among. Europeans, Asians, and Africans ask us to explain everything that baffles them about the increasingly odd and troubling conduct of the United States.  Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, complain that America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality” have gone on for too long to be considered just an adolescent phase. Which means that we Americans abroad are regularly asked to account for the behavior of our rebranded “homeland,” now conspicuously in decline and increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

I live in America but I grew up in Jamaica, and that may be one reason I find so many popular American positions bizarre. The nationwide obsession with guns, for example. Why would so many Americans want to have a nation armed to the teeth when each new gun that’s sold increases the chances of them getting shot?

What sane person would advocate arming teachers? Yet in our local school board elections all of the candidates said that might be an idea worth exploring.

My imagination runs wild at the thought of my wife Sandra taking a magnum .357 into class with her. I wonder how long it would take one of her students to pick the lock of her desk drawer and go on a shooting spree, for example.

That’s just one of many things that puzzle me about America today.

For one thing, I have found Americans individually to be generous to the point of gullibility. Tell them a sob story and they reach for their check books. Yet they vote for hard-hearted politicians who oppose school lunches for poor children and food stamps for struggling families.

And I find American women (I married one) as confident and assertive as any in the world. Yet many of them vote for politicians who claim the right to control women’s reproductive destiny, who support higher pay for men doing the same jobs as women, and who argue that when a woman says no she sometimes means yes.

I can’t recall personally encountering “racism” since moving to America from Toronto more than 35 years ago. Indeed, to tell the truth, Canadians seemed more conscious of my Jamaican origins than the Americans I have dealt with. True, I am not visibly all that different, but there’s that unmistakable accent … Furthermore, Julius, my golfing buddy, is African American, and we’re always treated well – even affectionately – at our golf club.

Yet when it comes to politics, police and the media, America seems to get more racist every day. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of those unarmed black men being gunned down by police – with impunity. (Or of those disgusting caricatures of America’s first black president!)

Then there’s Fox News – America’s most popular all-news cable channel. I read this morning about a Fox News host who wondered out loud how police could tell “the bad guys” if they couldn’t see “the tone of their skin.”

I could go on and on. Don’t you find Americans remarkably religious, for example? I’ve never lived among so many “Christian” people. Yet the politicians they favor are ready to bomb some foreign nation at the slightest provocation, killing and maiming innocent children. Is that what Jesus would do?

I have to confess that I find my adopted country contradictory and bewildering. And I have no answers for Ms. Jones’ questions. As one of Sandra’s “exceptional” students always replied when asked a question in class, “Beats me, I have no idea.”

Click for Ms. Jones’ article.

Click for Fox News host’s remarks on skin tone.

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com

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