Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pew Survey Reveals that the Public's Belief in American Exceptionalism is on the Wane: It is All Barack Obama's Fault!

The public has lost faith in the idea of American Exceptionalism. You know this is all Barack Obama's fault. Don't you?

He travels around the world on "apology tours." He refuses to wear an American flag pin on his lapel. Obama was born outside of the American cultural and political tradition and has a deep dislike for this country. In fact, we have long suspected that he isn't even a U.S. citizen. Michelle Obama, the First Lady, did not have pride in America for most of her adult life (as is her selfish way, she only became proud of this great country when her husband was elected president, the nerve of that woman!). Obama even believes that Americans are "lazy." Horatio Alger and the Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.

And now, the President's lack of faith in American exceptionalism has infected the country's young people. It isn't surprising that those befouled liberals who have been brainwashed in college classrooms by Communist Socialist Fascist Maoist professors believe that America is not a special and exceptional nation. But, the very idea that "real Americans" would believe such a thing, is truly revelatory of the cultural rot which is holding this great nation back at the most inopportune of times, just as the Red Chinese conquer the world.

Seriously folks, what I offer in mocking jest will be the Right-wing talking points of the week when the findings from the Pew survey on American and Western European values trickles down and out to the mouth-breathing, Fox News, talk radio, chattering classes, and then is disseminated to their unwashed masses and Tea Party GOP supplicants.

American exceptionalism is a true lie. It does a good amount of political work in creating a sense of nationalism, legitimating government rule, and providing the fuel for those moments when "we the people" must rally around the flag in defense of the Common Good. A belief in American Exceptionalism, and its auxiliary premise that the United States is a "shining city on the hill" is a great story to play with, to inspire, and to use as a goal and barometer for achieving the best of what we can, and should be, as a nation.

However, as Dick Gregory sharply alluded to in regards to Bill Clinton, he who was our first "black president," it's okay to pretend that a cardboard box is your house, just don't try to use it as your address.

In all, American exceptionalism illuminates as much as it blinds.

For example, a certain generation is unwilling to admit that their understanding of America's role in the world, and the uniqueness of our singular destiny, is a function of a very particular arrangement of circumstances, power, and resources. Those are conditions which do not necessarily hold in the present. One of the key elements in the cultural crisis which is the United States at the nadir of Empire, is that the trope of American exceptionalism has become a cudgel to beat down cosmopolitanism, pragmatism, and creative solutions to challenging public policy dilemmas.

Here, the cultish personality of the Republican Party, and populist conservatism at large, clings to a dead corpse, a type of American exceptionalism that ceases to be valid or real in the present: it is a fetish, a magical totem that has lost its Ju-Ju. Instead of using the ideal of American exceptionalism to inspire ourselves to improve (for example, this country now ranks behind France in terms of inter-generational class mobility), it is now a tool for political chauvinists and bullies.

Feelings trump facts. Sentimentality fuels nostalgia. Nostalgia, a hopeful and inaccurate yearning for, and dreaming of the past, drives contemporary Conservatism. This willful misremembering and misperception of the past fuels the American partisan divide in the year 2012.

Conflicting views on American exceptionalism are central to this story.

The full report, The American-Western European Values Gap, can be found here. A particularly relevant section follows:

Cultural Superiority

About half of Americans (49%) and Germans (47%) agree with the statement, “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others;” 44% in Spain share this view. In Britain and France, only about a third or fewer (32% and 27%, respectively) think their culture is better than others.

While opinions about cultural superiority have remained relatively stable over the years in the four Western European countries surveyed, Americans are now far less likely to say that their culture is better than others; six-in-ten Americans held this belief in 2002 and 55% did so in 2007. Belief in cultural superiority has declined
among Americans across age, gender and education groups.

As in past surveys, older Americans remain far more inclined than younger ones to believe that their culture is better than others. Six-in-ten Americans ages 50 or older share this view, while 34% disagree; those younger than 30 hold the opposite view, with just 37% saying American culture is superior and 61% saying it is not. Opinions are more divided among those ages 30 to 49; 44% in this group see American culture as superior and 50% do not.

Similar age gaps are not as common in the Western European countries surveyed, with the exception of Spain, where majorities of older respondents, but not among younger ones, also think their culture is better than others; 55% of those ages 50 or older say this is the case, compared with 34% of those ages 30 to 49 and 39% of those younger than 30.

As is the case on other measures, opinions about cultural superiority vary considerably by educational attainment. In the four Western European countries and in the U.S., those who did not graduate from college are more likely than those who did to agree that their culture is superior, even if their people are not perfect.

For example, Germans with less education are twice as likely as those with a college degree to believe their culture is superior (50% vs. 25%); double-digit differences are also present in France (20 percentage points), Spain (18 points) and Britain (11 points), while a less pronounced gap is evident in the U.S. (9 points).

Finally, among Americans and Germans, political conservative are especially likely to believe their culture is superior to others. In the U.S., 63% of conservatives take this view, compared with 45% of moderates and just 34% of liberals. Similarly, a majority (55%) of right-wing Germans see their culture as superior, while 47% of moderates and 34% of those on the political left agree.


CNu said...

Double-O swaggermatic appears to be doing an exceptional job macking on some australian knickers right about now...,

nomad said...

Good to note that Americans become more certain of their superiority as they get older. We're number 1! We're number one!

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Got to work with the Aussies to deal w. those uppity Chinamen. What do you think prompt global strike is for. I prefer Thor's Hammer and Rods from Heavan myself, though.

@Nomad. We are number one! You best not reckless eye ball!

Batocchio said...

"American exceptionalism" always seems to entail a belligerent insistence that the status quo, however horrible, is absolutely great and the best in the world... rather than working to make something (education, health care, infrastructure) the best in the world.

The full study is intriguing. I'd be interested to see the exact breakdowns on possession of a passport, knowledge of a foreign language, and travel abroad, although I think we can guess the trend.