The Myth of American Exceptionalism

October 11, 2013 Topic: Society Region: United States

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

A perspective.

There is another circumstance indicative of the fact that the myth of American exceptionalism is in deep crisis. It is the fact that, while once many countries tried to copy the American political system and enviously read the U.S. Constitution that had persevered intact for so long, it is increasingly evident that this Constitution, written in the eighteenth century, is increasingly antiquated. The government only grows more dysfunctional. The shutdown has not been shut down. A default on the government’s debt looms in just a few days, threatening both the American and the world economy. The problem is that the division of power and checks and balances system ordained by the eighteenth-century Constitution as well as a few other conditions that now aggravate the situation, is presently creating a mechanism of power that cannot function in the changing political climate without one party being in control of both houses in Congress, as well as having a supermajority in the Senate of sixty or more Senators, in addition to controlling the White House to be able to adopt any serious decisions. Otherwise, any decision can be blocked by the excessive checks and balances.

One last word on American exceptionalism is in order. The global economic crisis of 2008-2009 showed that the American economy had fewer levers of handling the crisis than did, as believed, the Chinese economy. The political system, as we already said, demonstrated its extreme dysfunctionality in decision making. In international relations, the sole superpower made a series of crucial decisions in the wake of September 11, which led to prolonged and torturous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, negatively affecting not just the U.S., but also the region.

The Obama administration’s decisions about Libya, Egypt, and Syria were not marked by deep wisdom either. The U.S. left Iraq without having accomplished its goals, without leaving a democracy, or any sort of order and stability in their wake, and without even a U.S.-friendly government there. They are leaving Afghanistan with unclear consequences for the future of the country. Together with the French, Italians and other countries, American interference destroyed Libyan governance and no one can guess what will happen next. Washington is at a loss as to what to do with Egypt, which it has significantly destabilized. The United States is mired in difficulty with regard to Iran, Syria and other problematic situations. We can thus conclude unequivocally about Washington’s global role that American politicians need to wake up to the fact that the epoch in which American strategists believed they could rule the world has come to an end. A new era has begun, in which the U.S. must negotiate with its partners and allies, learn to take into account their interests, and create coalitions to solve pressing problems that cannot be solved single-handedly even by such a powerful country as the United States. The United States remains the preeminent economic powerhouse despite its colossal government debt and acute social and other problems. The defense spending in all other leading countries combined cannot reach American levels, while all the same the U.S. seems to be on a downward path. The country is shedding more and more elements of its exceptionalism both domestically and internationally, while they are still being cultivated in American mythology and ideology repeated daily by politicians and neocon analysts.

This, friends, is why I think that the last paragraph of Putin’s article in The New York Times provoked such a violent reaction among the American establishment. Though Putin did not explicitly say that the emperor has no clothes, he hinted that the emperor does not know very well what his garb is. When I discussed this notion with a friend of mine who is an American pundit, he noted very cleverly that even though the emperor is not fully naked, he has failed to notice that his clothes have begun to slip off.

Andranik Migranyan is the director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York. He is also a professor at the Institute of International Relations in Moscow, a former member of the Public Chamber and a former member of the Russian Presidential Council.