I watched the president’s state of the union speech last night, and couldn’t help but cringe at the heaping portion of American exceptionalism. Why has it been so impossible to get Americans to face up to reality and do something about it? Why is it politically untenable to say that we are anything other than the best, the smartest, the bravest, etc? Like a mother spoiling an only child, our political leaders fawn over us, stunting our prospects. It is rather like social promotion in schools, being passed along to a higher grade and told we are good, rather than holding ourselves to any standard or (heaven forbid) actually challenging us to change our bad study habits and become better. Take but one example (of many) from the President’s speech (referring to the military):
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.
Really? Do you read the news? Do you honestly believe that people around the world welcome the military of the US with open arms? Do you honestly believe that every military action we take makes us safer? How can you even peddle this fiction with a straight face? Why are we so emotionally needy and intellectually bankrupt as to accept this fairly tale? I expect this jingoistic bullshit from nativist Republicans, but I would like better from a Democratic president I voted for.
How about telling Americans the truth: that we have greatness in us, just like all people do, but to achieve that greatness we need to look at ourselves honestly. We need to look at our problems honestly. And instead of puffing ourselves up with empty and false flattery, we should use our resources to make our society better for everyone. I was glad the president mentioned income inequality and that it was central to his speech. But I wish he had been a little more honest about our shortcomings and stopped glorifying our worst impulses.