Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I honor those who sacrificed and still sacrifice to protect and defend our freedoms.
And unlike most liberals, I actually listen to conservative talk radio. I think El Rush has a good b.s. detector (as well as a good b.s. projector) and I’ll take Imus’ word that Sean Hannity is a nice guy, although his prideful sense of his own righteousness rivals that of the Spanish Inquisition.
In fact, the sin of pride (aka self-righteousness) is what I’m here to talk about today. I’ve noticed a new meme developing particularly on Hannity’s show. Not the old meme in which everyone who calls in gets praised as “a great American” even though Hannity has no idea if he’s talking to a serial killer or an al-Qaeda mole. So long as the serial killer calls Sean “a great American” he must have the superb discernment to be a great American. No pride there. I just feel a guy who needs to be called “a great American” every five minutes might have … some kind of problem. Don’t church-going listeners find this embarrassing and deplorable, by the way? Isn’t pride one of the seven deadly sins? One of the deadliest?
No, the meme I’m talking about is the one where everyone is called upon to pledge allegiance to the doctrine of “American exceptionalism.” Frankly I don’t think many of the callers (and I’m not sure of Hannity himself) know what they’re talking about when they use the word “exceptionalism.” It’s actually a subject I’ve given considerable thought — and study — to in both my book on Hitler and the one on Shakespeare. Was Hitler on the continuum of evil-doers, just at the far outer edge? Or was he off the grid, off the charts, in a realm of “radical evil,” as the exceptionalists argue? It’s not an easy question. Nor is the one about Shakespeare: was he just a very, very great writer or was he off in some realm of sublimity all his own beyond all other great writers, as some exceptionalists argue? Again, not an easy question.
But American exceptionalism? These days, on Hannity’s show at least, it’s mainly used in a simple-minded, dumbed-down, loutish “we’re number one!,” Freddie Mercury “we are the champions of the world,” boastful, sin of pride way. (Remind me all you “values” types: isn’t humility supposed to be one of the cardinal virtues?)
But recently “American exceptionalism” has been used to club Obama, who, when asked (I’m paraphrasing) whether he believed in American exceptionalism, replied something like, “sure, just as the Brits believe in British exceptionalism … etc.” Something like that. In a low key way, but a remarkable instance of intellectual integrity not submitting to the demand for jingoist blather.
In a quietly courageous way, knowing it would be misinterpreted by ignoramuses. He was agreeing he felt pride in his nation. But he could understand others feeling pride in theirs. Does he really expect other nations to bow down and worship the Golden Calf of our pridefulness? And oh, how the historically oblivious tried to turn it against him!
Because let’s look at the definition of American exceptionalism and see if it’s a doctrine anyone who has studied history can take seriously as anything but jingoistic boasting. (Outta my way, lesser nations, I’m cutting to the head of the line ’cause I’m an American and we’re exceptional.)