Editor’s Note: Last month, I was trying to be optimistic about the prospects of the Trump Administration. Unfortunately, since then, we’ve been treated to the selection of the Trump cabinet, the incessant Tweeting and what has turned out to be just a typical right-wing politician going through a transition into another typical Republican administration.


Losing Faith in Our Exceptionalism

I’ve just signed up for Medicare. I guess I’m still clinging to the dubious belief that Paul Ryan and his GOP cronies won’t expropriate it (and my Social Security) to pay for the huge tax breaks our billionaire president-elect has promised to his billionaire GOP cronies.

I’ve paid into Medicare and Social Security for decades, so, unlike Ryan Republicans, I don’t consider them charitable “entitlements.” I want them because I believe it’s my money, but, as one famous senior citizen put it: “You can’t always get what you want.” Sadly, with right-wing politicians, you often find you don’t “get what you need” either.

One thing I’ve always wanted to believe in is exceptionalism. The affirmation of man’s privileged place in the cosmos dates to the Egyptian pharaohs, who were worshipped as deities. This sort of thing probably made sense when ancient peoples thought the entire universe was circumscribed by a few rivers in the Fertile Crescent, and Jehovah lived on Mount Sinai, from which He controlled all of history. Today, it’s quite a bit harder to believe.

In 1990, the Voyager I space probe took a beautiful photograph, at a distance of 3.7 billion miles, of our tiny Earth, which astronomer Carl Sagan called, “a pale blue dot.” It’s humbling to contemplate that every mighty king, conqueror and demagogue you’ve ever read about strove to control small regions of this insignificant (0.12-pixel) speck of dust. And we now know our solar system isn’t even at the center of the Milky Way, which contains 400 billion other stars and is merely one of at least 200 billion galaxies.

Mankind’s cosmic exceptionalism may have become untenable, but American exceptionalism remains practically a religion in the U.S., even though the history books make it a difficult doctrine to embrace. Our treatment of the American Indians comprises centuries of genocidal cruelty, we’ve always been unwelcoming to immigrants and we kept slaves long after the rest of the “civilized” world outlawed that unholy institution.

We pat ourselves on the back because more than 300,000 Union troops gave their lives during the Civil War, at least in part, to free the slaves. However, 300,000 Rebels died while killing those Yankees to keep human beings in bondage. And it goes without saying that our record on civil rights since Emancipation has been nothing to brag about.

We’ve had a long history of wars, and, although it may sound unpatriotic to say it, we weren’t always the “good guys.” There were no good guys in the War of 1812 or World War I, and we’ve often bullied weaker opponents — the Indian, Mexican and Spanish-American wars come to mind — to seize their lands with little or no justification.

We rightly praise the Greatest Generation for defeating three heinous enemies in World War II. However, the U.S. had little interest in Japanese atrocities before Pearl Harbor, and we avoided confronting the Germans until Hitler declared war on us first. I’ve heard anti-Semites say the Jews should be grateful to America for liberating them from the Nazis; however, that was a byproduct of our invasion of Europe and never our goal.

We rightly pat ourselves on the back for outlasting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, but what was the alternative? During this period, we’ve been, by far, the most belligerent nation on the planet: Of the 248 armed conflicts since World War II, 201 were initiated by the U.S., which is more than the USSR and China combined. Whether you see this as good or bad is likely to color your view of our exceptionalism.

 

The U.S. is undoubtedly the world’s No. 1 military power, but we’re also No. 1 in gun-related murders in the developed world. Although we have the world’s biggest economy, we rank poorly in healthcare, including both infant and adult mortality, as well as education, where we’re 17th out of 50 developed nations, and even worse in math and science. And the huge and ever-widening gap between our rich and poor is disturbing.

I want to believe in our exceptionalism, but we just elected a president who ran a fact-free campaign based on misogyny, racism and bigotry. This is depressing for the majority who voted against him, and even more unsettling is that the largest voting bloc was those who didn’t even bother going to the polls. (Evidently, we Americans love democracy, as long as it’s not too inconvenient.) I don’t know any liberals who’ve moved to Canada because of Trump’s election, but not many Canadians are planning to move here either.

Many of us were told in Sunday school that, “God has a plan for each of us,” but it’s hard to believe in personal exceptionalism after a lifetime of random events. In 1972, I T-boned a Ford station wagon on I-95 at 65 mph. My car was crushed and splattered with my blood, but I was able to limp away from it. Friends and family who saw the mangled wreckage told me my survival was a miracle, but it was as accidental as my accident.

Had I spent two extra seconds drinking coffee that morning, that Ford would have passed by me unharmed. Two seconds less, and it would have slipped behind me. Either way, I’d have been unscathed. Much of life is just that random. A half-second earlier, and I’d have crushed the Ford’s front left door, rather than its rear door, and both the driver and her baby would’ve died instantly. Their survival was no more a miracle than my own.

Being old enough to have a Medicare card hasn’t given me the wisdom to know whether there’s a god or not, or whether that deity has a destiny planned for our species in the cosmos, for our nation or for any of us as individuals. Among the goofiest Facebook posts I’ve seen this year was an especially moronic one that claimed Trump’s election should prove to all the atheists that they’re wrong about god’s existence.

I find it hard to believe that the Creator of the Universe took time out from directing the movements of billions of galaxies and their trillions of stars to number the hairs on my head (Luke 12:7) or to intercede in America’s 2016 election on behalf of Donald J. Trump. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. And most of the time, well, you can’t always get what you want.


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