I was born in America and have lived here for 21 years. For the most part America has been good to me. However, I find myself growing increasingly frustrated with American self-righteousness.
Let me explain what I mean with a tweet from ex-presidential hopeful, Herman Cain: America is the greatest & most exceptional nation in the world. We got here not because of government but in spite of it. What he's basically saying is that America is better than everyone else. Ever since the end of the Cold War Americans seem to have to adopted this notion that we are the best, most perfect nation in the world, and if any country hopes to be successful they would do well to copy us. When Barack Obama stated that he believed that America was going soft the response was outrage: how dare the president suggest that America has gotten soft. Eric Cantor declared that "America is the greatest nation in the world". All around us there seems to be the myth that America is exceptional: we are the greatest nation in the world and how dare anyone criticize us.
This would be ok (to a certain degree), but the hilarious part is that we arrogantly criticize everyone else, but particularly our friends in Europe as old, creaky, and socialist while secretly engaging the very same activities Europe was pursuing two centuries ago. Europeans felt that by colonizing and conquering "barbaric" tribes in Africa and Asia they were bringing the light of democracy and civilization to these dark places. It is now America's turn. We went into Iraq thinking they would welcome change-we thought we were going to be cheered in the streets. Turns out that once we toppled Saddam Hussein from power the Iraqis just wanted us to leave. They didn't even necessarily want a democratic system like ours, just Hussein out of power. We went into Vietnam thinking they wanted American democracy. We should have known better. The French had just fought a very bloody war with the Vietnamese which ended French rule in the region. How did we honestly think they would welcome another Western power landing its troops and trying to tell them how to run their country? And there are quite a few other instances where we have set up certain rulers in power simply because they hate Communism (or at least say they are democratic) only to find out that they are violent dictators and/or involved with drug lords (Panama). To be clear, America has acted very much like the Europe of the past, and we are quickly discovering that our way of life is not always welcome around the world. America even has the same attitude as the Old Europe: Europeans, in general, went into places like Africa believing that they were making that place better. America has tried to do very much the same. The impression I get is that Americans feel like every country would do well to model itself on the American system of government, and generally become more like America as much as it is possible to be.
Funnily enough, many countries have tried (and failed) to adopt an American system based on the Constitution. Many of those countries have copied the Constitution word for word only to find that it doesn't work for them. America may not be exceptional, but it is unique. We have a unique history, and one thing that makes us unique is that we were heavily influenced by European Enlightenment thinkers and we had strong leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. They wrote a document that was flexible, and alterable to further unique situations. They were forward looking men who broke strict adherence to the Constitution when they saw an opportunity for America to advance. Thomas Jefferson once said, when deciding whether or not to purchase Louisianna from France, that "to lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written laws would be to lose the law itself". What all this adds up to is that America has far too many traditions that make it unique for any country to copy to the letter. No nation could possibly hope to succeed with our system without being able to understand it, and alter it where necessary to fit their unique situation. That does not mean that America is perfect or that other nations have no hope of becoming as great as we are.
The problem with convincing ourselves that we are exceptional is that we have a tendency to overlook our own faults and shortcomings, or to downplay them as not so bad afterall. As I stated earlier America has acted very assertively towards other nations even when they have not wanted us to, and we have made our fair share of disastrous mistakes. It also means that we blind ourselves to what the rest of the world has to offer. Sure, America does not need to copy anyone else's model or system, but we can still learn from them, tweak it to fit within our system, and apply it. Unfortunately we have convinced ourselves that we do not need to learn from the rest of the world; we're perfect, or we'll find the perfect system from within our own precedents. Let me end on a quote from Alexander Hamilton who said, "Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?" We are not perfect yet, and far from it. And America will have to learn from the rest of humanity if it wants to have any hope of survival. When we convince ourselves that we are better than they are we set ourselves up for failure, and the world will gloat over our decaying empire.
Another point of dissatisfaction I feel compelled to point out is that when I tell people I would like to move to the U.K. someday they ask why in the heck I would want to do that. They don't stop there either. When I point out some of the advantages to living in the U.K. and just my general interest in the place they tell me I can just get the heck out of here; I'm not wanted. It is often people like that who make me all the more anxious to leave. If that's the attitude of Americans towards other Americans wanting to move abroad-especially if they feel that they could have a better life-then I say good riddance!
Now, on balance I think America has done some great things; things worth praising. We've helped eradicate AIDS from some African villages, and this is under the same president who pre-emptively invaded Iraq for fear they had nuclear missiles. We have, under the Marshall Plan, prevented Greece and Turkey from falling to Communism. Under that same plan we helped rebuild France and Britain after World War 2. In the course of over 200 years we have created a society which is generally tolerant of all beliefs, races, and opinions. We don't have a government that attempts to censor criticisms of politicians, and certainly not on the scale that Syria and Libya have tried. We have wrestled with the issue of slavery, and ultimately declared that it is a calumny that we ever engaged in the practice. And ultimately we have provided a society that the world wants to emulate without being told they have to emulate it.
I also would like to say that I do not want America to fail. In fact, I want to see America succeed because when America succeeds it boosts everyone around the world. Not only that, but America is home to around 312 million people all of whom deserve a prosperous life. I would be ashamed if I hoped for America to fall into disrepair while the rest of the world surged ahead. I hope for prosperity for all peoples around the world. My frustration is with what I perceive as American arrogance and self-righteousness. My point here is to point out how negatively that has affected me, and why I feel that it is misplaced.