Posted by on 1st September 2020

American Exceptionalism — What Does It Really Mean to Believe America Is the Best?

A while back I came across a post on Twitter I can’t quit thinking about… It stated that the very concept of American exceptionalism is a tool of oppression used by the patriarchy to maintain power.

This idea struck me on a few levels. As a dual citizen of the United States and Switzerland who has lived and traveled abroad extensively, I’ve long known America isn’t exceptional. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to create a more European lifestyle.

American exceptionalism is a powerful lie.

My family in Europe enjoys safe, clean cities, a living wage and amazing free healthcare. They also get six months of paid maternity leave, a minimum of four weeks paid vacation a year, and a whole lot more. They walk, and hike, and forage, and bike, and garden, and generally spend a lot of time outdoors. Life over there is slower, and more focused on experiences and friends and good food than things.

While we don’t have all of that here, I do what I can to enjoy a version of their relaxed lifestyle…

I prefer to walk, ride my bike, or use public transit versus driving my car. I prefer to buy fresh groceries every two or three days, ideally from a local farm, versus stocking up an extra freezer and pantry at Costco with enough to last months. I have zero interest in living in a giant home in the suburbs. I enjoy sitting outdoors with a relaxing cup of tea while watching the world go by.

Yet in the U.S. we’re told spending hours a day sitting in traffic to drive to a job we hate, to pay for stuff we don’t need, is the good life. And with fewer jobs and less pay, things here only seem to be getting worse. Depression and drug addiction are on the rise because people hate their lives.

Once you proclaim your way is the best, you close yourself off to any other options.

Other countries have proven universal healthcare makes people both healthier and happier. That you can absolutely outlaw certain guns, or all guns, and you’ll reduce gun violence. That paying people a living wage, and offering things like universal childcare and free college, makes people happier and a country more successful.

While I’d long understood these aspects of the lie that is American exceptionalism, I’d never realized it’s a powerful tool of the patriarchy. But again, if you say our way is the best way, you leave no room for change.

If we are the best, we don’t need to look at our hiring practices, our laws, our for-profit prison system, our societal mores, the actions of our police forces, or the fact that our country is ruled by a minority determined to stay in power. We definitely shouldn’t consider that by almost any metric, compared to other developed nations our version of democracy and capitalism is a failed experiment (unless you’re part of the 1%).

Yet every day in America we’re seeing more and more how incredibly racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and anti-pretty much everything other than cis white men this country truly is. And people outside the United States are realizing America is no better, and in fact often worse in many ways, than where they live now.

As long as the status quo is maintained, the patriarchy maintains power.

When I talk about this, people often ask why don’t I just leave?

In theory, I could. It certainly something I’ve considered. Except my husband is very close to his family, and his parents aren’t getting any younger. He would have a hard time finding work over there. And most importantly, if we leave, I abdicate my responsibility to try and make this country a better, cleaner, safer place for all of us to live a good life and achieve our dreams.

I don’t need to go. The idea of American exceptionalism does.

Do you have thoughts on the idea of American exceptionalism and what it does to our Country? If so, please do comment below.


Be the first to comment.

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>