Is America exceptional, or what?

The latest ideological buzzword is “exceptional,” as in, “America is exceptional.”  Republicans Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich are accusing Democrats–and President Obama in particular–of not believing in “American exceptionalism.”  See this rather biased article for an overview of the phenomenon: Conservatives’ new focus: America, the exceptional.

What does it mean to say that America is exceptional?  Does it mean, as the article says, that America is the best of all countries, or does it really mean something different?  What IS exceptional about America, and what is not?

Isn’t it true that conservatives tend to be more positively patriotic, while liberals tend to be patriotic in the sense that “it’s patriotic to criticize what is wrong”?  Why is that?

And what does all of this mean from a Christian point of view? At what point does patriotism turn into pride and idolatry?

Thank a mosquito. . .

Next time you get bit by a mosquito, do not swat him. Rather, thank him for your freedom!  Yesterday marked the 229th anniversary of George Washington’s victory over the British at Yorktown, which meant that American independence was won.  This fascinating piece by J. R. McNeill credits the lowly and much-hated mosquito for this otherwise unlikely turn of events:

Major combat operations in the American Revolution ended 229 years ago on Oct. 19, at Yorktown. For that we can thank the fortitude of American forces under George Washington, the siegecraft of French troops of Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the count of Rochambeau – and the relentless bloodthirstiness of female Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes.

Those tiny amazons conducted covert biological warfare against the British army. Female mosquitoes seek mammalian blood to provide the proteins they need to make eggs. No blood meal, no reproduction. It makes them bold and determined to bite.

Some anopheles mosquitoes carry the malaria parasite, which they can inject into human bloodstreams when taking their meals. In eastern North America, A. quadrimaculatus was the sole important malaria vector. It carried malaria from person to person, and susceptible humans carried it from mosquito to mosquito. In the 18th century, no one suspected that mosquitoes carried diseases.

Malaria, still one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world, was a widespread scourge in North America until little more than a century ago. The only people resistant to it were either those of African descent – many of whom had inherited genetic traits that blocked malaria from doing its worst – or folks who had already been infected many times, acquiring resistance the hard way. In general, the more bouts you survive, the more resistant you are.

via How mosquitoes helped swarm the redcoats at Yorktown.

The article goes on to explain how the British troops, with no immunity to malaria, were incapacitated by the disease, while the colonial troops, especially the Southerners who had already survived bouts with the mosquito-borne malady, were relatively immune.

Loving austerity

You’ve got to hand it to the Brits, as Anne Applebaum explains:

“Vicious cuts.” “Savage cuts.” “Swingeing cuts.” The language that the British use to describe their new government’s spending reduction policy is apocalyptic in the extreme. The ministers in charge of the country’s finances are known as “axe-wielders” who will be “hacking” away at the national budget. Articles about the nation’s finances are filled with talk of blood, knives and amputation.

And the British love it. Not only is “austerity” being touted as the solution to Britain’s economic woes, it is also being described as the answer to the country’s moral failings. On Oct. 20, the government will announce $128 billion worth of spending cuts, and many seem positively excited about it. . . For these voters, the very idea of instant gratification is anathema, in theory if not in practice. And they elected this government because they’ve convinced themselves that they’ve had enough of it.

Austerity, by contrast, has a deep appeal. Austerity is what made Britain great. Austerity is what won the war. It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that “remarkable year” of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship. One series, “Ration Book Britain” is even devoted to that era’s parsimonious cooking. “With bacon, eggs and sugar rationed, wartime cooks had to be jolly resourceful,” explains an advertisement for the show. Its host promises to “re-create the recipes that kept the country fighting fit.”

Sometimes the depth of the Anglo-American cultural divide reveals itself in unexpected ways, and this is one of those moments: No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States. Perhaps for similar reasons, nobody is talking about “austerity” in the United States either. On the contrary, Republicans are still gunning for tax cuts, and Democrats are still advocating higher spending. Almost nobody — not Paul Krugman, not Newt Gingrich — talks enthusiastically about budget cuts. Instead, our politicians use euphemisms about “eliminating waste” or “making government more efficient,” as if no one had ever thought of doing that before.

Despite the deep shock the United States supposedly experienced during the banking crisis of 2008 and the resulting recession, we are, in other words, still far from Clegg’s “long-termism.” Hardly anyone in America is talking about cuts in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, for example, the biggest budgetary items (even though “private” pensions now look a lot safer, even when taking stock market fluctuations into account, than those who will depend entirely on a bankrupt federal budget 20 years hence). In Britain, by contrast, everything is on the table: pensions, housing benefits, disability payments, tax breaks.

Politics explain some of this difference, but I reckon history explains more of it. The last period of real national hardship Americans might remember is the 1930s, too long ago for almost everyone alive today. But rationing in Britain lasted well into the 1950s, long enough to color the childhoods of many politicians now in power. Nostalgic Brits, longing to re-create their country’s finest hour, remember postwar scrimping and saving. Nostalgic Americans in search of their own country’s finest hour remember postwar abundance, the long consumer boom — and, yes, a time when even instant gratification wasn’t fast enough.

via Anne Applebaum – For the U.S., Britain’s austerity is a foreign concept.

The conventional wisdom is that politicians dare not ask Americans to make sacrifices of any kind.  Do you think Americans could come to love austerity?

America’s Ruling Class

According to Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, power in America is held by a distinct ruling class,  comprised of both Democrats and Republicans, a political and social elite that uses the government to advance its interests against the two-thirds of ordinary Americans whom it rules with contempt.  This is not an economic class–just being wealthy won’t get you in–but rather it is a social aristocracy based not on birth but on a particular set of beliefs, social values, and class markers.  The article is long, it defies excerpt or paraphrase, and it is inflammatory.  You’ve got to read it:  The American Spectator : America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution.  Then talk about it here.

We are now accepting foreign aid

Now we know how Third World countries feel.  We should be grateful, though isn’t it kind of humiliating, a sign of our decline in the world?

US accepts international assistance for Gulf spill – Yahoo! Finance.

Keep and bear arms

The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment gives individuals–not militias–the personal right to keep and bear arms, a right that state and local governments may not abridge:

The Second Amendment provides Americans a fundamental right to bear arms that cannot be violated by state and local governments, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates.

The 5 to 4 decision does not strike down any gun-control laws, nor does it elaborate on what kind of laws would offend the Constitution. One justice predicted that an “avalanche” of lawsuits would be filed across the country asking federal judges to define the boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the opinion for the court’s dominant conservatives, said: “It is clear that the Framers . . . counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.”

The decision extended the court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that “the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home.” That decision applied only to federal laws and federal enclaves such as Washington; it was the first time the court had said there was an individual right to gun ownership rather than one related to military service.

via Supreme Court affirms fundamental right to bear arms.

I don’t see how the Second Amendment could be read in any other way.  For those who only think that it refers to militias, I would think they would have to support militias as constitutionally-mandated.  At the time of the founding and extending through the Civil War, America had no large standing army.  Just local and state militias consisting of ordinary citizens.  Who kept their weapons at home.

The National Guard is not equivalent to those militias (note the “national” in the name and its connection to the standing military forces).  Nor are the radical groups that call themselves militias but operate under no governmental chain-of-command.   But since the Constitution calls for them, shouldn’t we have them?  Could they, properly trained and equipped, offer an alternative military system to what we have today?

ANOTHER THOUGHT: Those who think the Second Amendment applies primarily to militias should, therefore, support the possession of military weapons, such as assault rifles. Clearly, the amendment is not talking about the right to hunt but the right to “security.” That certainly has to include the keeping of weapons for self defense.


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