Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

American Exceptionalism?


What is it with a minority of Americans (it is a minority, right?) who genuinely believe the American constitution is as perfect and as flawless as they believe the Bible to be, and that everyone outside of its borders desire to live the “American Dream”, if not in America, then a close replica of it elsewhere.

One could be forgiven for thinking these Exceptionalists believed the constitution was conceived by God and that any criticism of it is tantamount to blasphemy and/or heresy. They believe that America is the greatest country on earth, and as a nation can do no wrong. I’ll concede that America is, for the time being, the most powerful country on earth, but as to being the greatest, I think not, and if it ever was, not for a long while.

What reminded me of all this is an opinion piece titled The True Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the article, KrisAnne Hall suggests that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could possibly be a singular point that can cause the destruction of America. Wow! I mean, WOW!

So, you may ask, what is it that makes Justice Ginsburg such a threat to America? Apparently she doesn’t bow down and worship the constitution in a manner that the writer believes is mandatory for all Americans and especially its jurists. Ginsburg stated on Egyptian TV in 2012 that if she were to write a new constitution for Egypt she would not model it on the American one. Oh the sacrilege! Oh the profanity! She actually suggested that it would be better to be aided by all the constitutional writings that have gone on since the end of World War II!

To the Exceptionists, the constitution is perfect and nothing can surpass it, even 200 years later. One could ask if it was perfect in every way, why has it had so many amendments over the years? But seriously, do they really think that in the 200 years since it was so brilliantly drafted, that other intellectuals, academics, and politicians could not come up with something that was as good, if not better? Acknowledging that probability is not to denigrate the American constitution, but simply to acknowledge that others can be just as wise as the American founding fathers were and build on what has been learnt in the past.

The writer questions Justice Ginsburg’s knowledge of the American constitution, but I wonder if the writer should question her own knowledge. She states that nation is founded upon the principles that “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. That may or may not be true, but it’s not stated in the constitution.

The writer claims the the founding fathers wrote in  set a “sunset” for the institution of slavery as evidence that they believed all men were equal. Actually they didn’t. They set in a sunset clause for the importation of slaves. Quite a different matter altogether. The writer also reminds Ginsburg that the Declaration of Independence states “ALL” men are created equal. True, but again that’s not in the original constitution. Even as late as 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was not unconstitutional. And Jim Crow laws were not successfully challenged in the courts until the 1960s.

As well as the sunset clause allowing the slave trade to continue for the time being, the acceptance of slavery can be seen in the Enumeration Clause and the The Fugitive Slave Clause. Did the founding father want an end to the institution of slavery? Some of them certainly did, but once again it’s not explicit in the constitution.

But hey, what do I know. I live in one of less than a handful of nations that do not have a codified constitution, and what laws we do have limiting and regulating the powers of government are most certainly not set in stone, yet we enjoy greater freedoms than Americans. What I won’t find is anyone declaring a jurist unpatriotic (I don’t think Kiwis ever use that term), unfit for office, or a traitor if their opinion of our constitution didn’t agree with theirs.

Hey Exceptionalists, be you American, national, religious, or otherwise, pull your heads out of the sand and look around. You might notice the world passing you by.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and was diagnosed as being autistic aged sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

8 thoughts on “American Exceptionalism?

  1. Being in America, I find the arrogance and this drummed in feeling of being superior is a dangerous mindset, for it doesn’t allow for skeptical and rational thought to improve anything for all of its citizens or it makes it very difficult.

    I just saw the new RBG movie “On the Basis of Sex” and it was excellent. She is a remarkable woman. Women, in particular, should be very grateful to her for many of the freedoms and equality, but somehow the right wing has done a good job of brainwashing the less informed in our society.

  2. Thanks for articulating all of that. As I understand it, I seriously doubt that the “Founding Fathers” ever originally intended for anyone to revere and worship them or their own personal and particular “original intentions”. It’s the US Constitution, not the James Madison Constitution. The US Constitution has always been a work in progress, as first vividly evidenced by the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights).

    • “A work in progress”.Yes I like that. I find it hard to understand how anyone can believe any document can be perfect for all time.

      While there’s plenty of room to argue about how easily a constitution can be amended or altered – ours very easily, yours much less so, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that the idea of a constitution should never be open to change is nonsense.

  3. this is well articulated, Barry.

  4. I find Linda Greenhouse’s articles in the New York Times fascinating, on the Supreme Court. My law degree is Scots, and I find the legal arguments she describes both familiar and alien. It is worrying that the US President would refer to “Democrat judges”, which led to a rebuke from Justice Roberts who was appointed by a Republican president (I am not obsessive enough to recall how many Democrat senators advised and consented to the nomination). But there are Originalists, who would take away a great deal of the power of the Constitution to support the freedom of American citizens today. I think their aim is conservative rather than principled, but find it fascinating. When I hear of Evangelicals voting for Trump because his judges would end legal abortion, I am reminded of how foreign the US is, despite our common language.

  5. Exceptionalism is becoming a more important bridge that Evangelicals are using to justify the religious veneration of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. The reasoning is that the US is a superpower because of divine providence. Since such providence started with two documents, there has to be divine involvement in their development. Most importantly, some of the people arguing all of this have gone so far as to claim they are divinely inspired documents.
    This puts them on equal religious footing as the bible.

    What it allows politicians to do is claim political positions are attacks on faith. Amend the Constitution? You’re amending a deity’s words.

    Sadly, this thinking isn’t limited to just the US. It can be applied to any country. What is necessary is having a religious group that a political entity wants control of. When that happens, you’ll see whatever local brand of exceptionalism pop up.

    • Perhaps we’re fortunate in not having a codified constitution and being one of the most secular nations on Earth. Our “constitution” is more or less in constant minor change.

      As Christians make up considerably less than half the population and most of those fall into the liberal/progressive/post-christian end of the spectrum, the risks facing a political party of being affiliated in any way with religion outweigh any perceived advantage.

      Keep in mind too, that the reasons why settlers came to Aotearoa, and how we gained our independence are not comparable to that of the US. Constitutionally, we didn’t cut the last ties with the “Mother Country” until 1947 – 2 two years before I was born – and then only with some reluctance. If we’re going to develop any form of exceptionalism, it’s going to take quite a few more generations.

      And finally, observers of the Kiwi psyche note that we dislike confrontation, prefer compromise and have developed the concept of degrees of “rightness” and “wrongness” – no-one is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. That’s a major reason we chose to change from a first past the post (FPP) electoral system (which is very polarising) to a mixed member proportional (MMP) system as it allows multiple points of view to be heard. And for the time being, this way of thinking also applies to the international scene.

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