The Misnomer of “American Exceptionalism”

President Barack Obama on American Exceptionalism

In its classic forms, according to Ian TyrrellAmerican Exceptionalism refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty.

Of course, I grant it to the Americans who so hang on to their respective successes as their “Exceptionalism”. They are undeniably unique. What I sternly dissent is when they misunderstand every other civilization to be a second-rate class of humans. That is a misnomer.

Ironically there’s no better articulation of the sacredness of all humanity than as written in the original text of the United States Declaration of Independence;

“… all men are created equal… they are endowed by the creator…” it read.

American Declaration Of Independence

This Declaration projected in itself a spirit of prudence – that America could be a world leader not by duress but by its exceptionality of ideals. It is really unfortunate, however, that all was just a man’s reverie – vis-à-vis the mainstay of Americanism – bigotry. When the original copy of the Declaration reached the Congress, for final approval, it met a sharp contradiction between the claim that all men are equal and the existence of slavery – which they never wanted to let go of.

As a result, alterations were made of the transcript and also deleted nearly a fourth of the draft, including a passage critical of slave trade.

Following the Declaration, Slave trade abolitionist, Thomas Day came out and called this an explicit show of hypocrisy. And in his response, he made a very crucial statement that, I think, is still very relevant to the discussion on how USA projects its power around the world even today.

He said: “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

I venture to contend that America has never reformed its stance of two-facedness – notwithstanding the voice of reason always therewith but, of course, will never get to sculpt what comes out as policy, let alone foreign policy.

In his earth-shaking speech of 2013, in South Africa, President Barack Obama at the Memorial Service of the great African Statesman, Nelson Mandela said;

“It is hard to eulogize any man… to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person… their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul.  How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice and in the process moved billions around the world…”

And President Obama continued; “Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit.  There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity…”

Not surprisingly, Africa has always been a broadminded people. However, what is good of all this courtesy, if there’s absolutely no reciprocation of civility, nothing to back up any belief that such as Mr. Obama’s oratory is at all sincere? We cannot so be patronized forever – speeches, speeches and nothing but speeches. For until 2008, Nelson Mandela remained on America’s watch-list of the world’s most notorious terrorists.

Times have changed; we will not allow to continue to be talked about as daft in the private meetings at Capitol Hill because we are being tolerant a second longer. For in as much as we all love USA [whether by conviction or convenience], it is here where we begin to wonder who is counting the cost of its deeds despite its rhetoric.

According to President Obama, “Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories.  “I am not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so.” Mr. Obama drummed.

In the same spirit; should it not be incumbent upon the “West” to own up to the myriad of mishaps they have caused around the world? Otherwise why else do we love Madiba – if not for the nobility of possessing some remorse? Or is it not a [democracy] thing to demand for audit? Everyone, I think, should be compelled to seek to know where to find any American perpetrators if they’re ever found to be with similar practice as, according to the Americans, the iniquitous Omar el Bashir’s.

For at least we know indignation will not fail to come to us [on this side] who do not adhere to America’s priesthood – On Thursday, May 12, 2016, the American and European diplomats walked out of President Museveni’s Swearing-in Ceremony at Kololo Independence Grounds, since, apparently, they could not breathe the same air as some of the host’s felonious guests – like President Bashir. Fine, but we should also know that the yardstick is universal for all men – whether African or American.

It is strange how almost only Africans are on ICC’s criminals list today, just like Nelson Mandela was, before Mr. Obama and a cloud of citizens of all walks of life swarmed on South Africa – like never seen before, only to celebrate a life of a man who not long ago had been perceived a delinquent.

As irony would have it, an assemblage of world leaders put in an appearance, including a posse of past American presidents, inevitably to pay tribute to this African, who according to President Obama’s signature speech, every human could only learn from – especially about not being too censorious of other people.

It would be prudent for someone from the West to eat a humble pie some time, just as to appreciate that no one has any monopoly of getting it right. Mandela got it right the first time; it literally took the Western bureaucrats years to cope.

Furthermore, allotting a Benefit of Doubt to African leaders would, maybe, go a long way in speaking for the honesty of the West, especially if they are to be freshly perceived as committed towards the progression of the new democracies and good governance.

Our friendly West ought also to appreciate that putting African leaders onto a pedestal, seldom for applause but scrutiny, equally puts them [accusers] under examination – even if just to be sure who is making the jury!

In calling out for prosecution of African leaders, the world seeks to know, for example, if USA has ever considered adjusting its law to allow room [for it] to subject itself to the International Criminal Court, ICC as everybody else!

US Constitution

That would be such a superb archetype of leading by example. Until that happens the West is continuously being seen as bullying African leaders – especially by use of the local civil societies they sponsor to lend credibility to the witch-hunt.

Otherwise how does the United States then reconcile its constitutional precepts [of sacredness of the right to liberty, freedom and equality of all men] with skimming through our fledgling democracies all the time and frowning on us two-thirds of that time?

As the fight against radicalism rages on, I think, America ought to revise its approach to Africa’s men. It is hapless to hop on to merely clamorous, topsy-turvy Opposition political groups to oust whatever is perceived as non-compliance to Americanism; it’s only a recipe for anarchy. Syria, Libya, Iraq, Egypt vindicate this claim rather splendidly.

In any case, howling out anecdotes of Democracy is no more a measure of scope or goodwill for rule of law than it is a hand to massage the magnanimous emotions of American [so-called] democrats. And history better informs us on this; it’s not like Idi Amin Dada ascended the throne without the help of overzealous “foreigners”!

If I would advise anything, it would be to our “Developed Westerners” to make a complete overhaul of their policy on Africa – one built on mutual respect – especially in practice. Otherwise favoritism or removal of it; is only swelling a bubble of mistrust and disgust!  If this bubble bursts, next generation’s extremism could be of Pan Africanism set against American Jingoism.

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