Debunking the Myth of American Exceptionalism, with David Swanson

Debunking the Myth of American Exceptionalism, with David Swanson

It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton. Today I’m joined by the journalist and activist
David Swanson to discuss his new book, “Curing Exceptionalism.” It’s a very detailed book looking at U.S.
exceptionalism, American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is the best country
in the world, and unique. It’s perhaps the best country in human history,
with no parallel. And David Swanson is very very well-prepared
to discuss this issue. He’s a journalist, activist, organizer, and
educator. He’s also the director of the peace group
World Beyond War. And he’s the host of Talk Nation Radio. This is his latest book. He has several books out, most recently including
“War Is Never Just: the Military-Industrial Complex at 50,” and “War Is a Lie.” Thanks for joining us, David. Great to be here, Ben. Thank you. So let’s go ahead and just get, you know,
jump right in here. The book is called “Curing Exceptionalism.” And you begin the book saying, quote, “U.S.
exceptionalism, the idea that the United States of America is superior to other nations, is
no more fact-based and no less harmful than racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. The purpose of this book is to persuade you
of that statement.” Can you persuade us? I can try. I can push some people’s viewpoints somewhat
in that direction, to be sure. The first part of the book is, is a lot of
statistics, is really an effort to find any empirically measurable way in which the United
States actually is the greatest nation on earth. And I end up finding a great many ways in
which it’s really pretty poor compared to most wealthy countries but better than a lot
of poor countries, and a number of ways in which it really is near the bottom among all
countries on the planet. But, but very few ways in which it actually
is at the top. And so even looking at freedom and democracy
and such things that are closely tied with these claims of greatness, and even looking
at U.S. studies, and U.S. government, and CIA-funded studies, and right-wing groups
that treat capitalism as a sort of economic freedom, nobody ranks the United States at
the top for freedom. Nobody ranks the United States at the top
for democracy or human rights. And you look at life expectancy and health
and happiness and other important measures of a society, and it’s just not at the top. And when you look at things like incarceration,
and militarism, and destruction of the natural environment, you know, it’s way down there
at the bottom. So you know, it’s hard to find evidence for
a claim that the United States is the greatest nation, other than in your subjective, baseless
opinion. Exactly. And what’s interesting about Part 1 is it’s
very detailed. As you mentioned, you go through all of these
statistics, and you cited a few things that might surprise people. So for instance, you mentioned that according
to the OECD, of all of the 37 countries in the OECD, the U.S. ranks 35th, almost at the
bottom, out of the entire OECD in terms of poverty and inequality. And then you also mention a report that did
not get as much attention, it should have, last year from the United Nations special
rapporteur on extreme poverty in which United Nations experts went to particularly the South
of this country, but not just the South, throughout the U.S., and looked at the extreme levels
of poverty, some of which approached formerly colonized nations. I mean, this is, you know, the largest imperial
country in the world, the U.S., but we have poverty in parts of this country that resemble
the kind of underdeveloped, overexploited parts of the Global South that were colonized. And then also what’s interesting is you cite
Reporters Without Borders, and as a journalist this is something I’m very aware of. And Reporters Without Borders ranks the U.S.
as 43rd in terms of press freedom. That is 43rd, nowhere even close to the top. So can you speak about maybe some more statistics
that might surprise Americans who, even if they’re critical of the government, they may
not realize that on the international stage the U.S. is nowhere near the top? Yeah, I mean, we’ve sort of grown used to
these contradictions of all these wars for freedoms, where we noticeably lose freedoms
in the process. But it’s worthwhile, I think, obviously since
I’ve done this in the first of the four sections of the book, to, to compare the United States
with other countries and find that if you’re going to yell and scream about how free your
freedom is, you really shouldn’t be in the United States. You should be in another country. This is, you know, as well as with, with education,
and with infrastructure, and with environmental sustainability, and all these other measures. There are many where the United States does
well in comparison with a lot of very poor countries, but does miserably in comparison
with wealthier countries. And I think in the age of de Tocqueville and,
you know, in centuries gone by there were ways in which the United States was doing
better than other countries in economic equality, and in education, and in the percentage of
the population allowed to vote, and so forth. But these are bygone eras that have no resemblance
to the current state of affairs. And yet exceptionalist thinking is reluctant
to drop claims of superiority just because they haven’t existed for, for decades or centuries. Yeah, and this is actually a good segue. In Part 2 of the book you discuss exceptionalist
thinking, and you discussed the ideology behind American exceptionalism, after spending the
entire first part empirically showing why this is ultimately based on false pretenses,
that the U.S. is not exceptional except in, as you mention, incarceration, where the U.S.
has less than 5 percent of the global population but more than 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And of course militarism. So can you talk about what you think is the
basis for exceptionalist thinking? Yeah. I mean, I think that the United States, like
anywhere else, is unique, and has many good features and many bad features, and most people
have a strong preference for their home, as I certainly do. But the United States far outstrips most of
the rest of the world in numerous measures of believing it’s the greatest, believing
it’s superior, believing it has the right to impose its will on others. The measures of patriotism and nationalism
and belief that your country is right. Belief that your country has the right to
go to war on other countries, and to do so without the United Nations. I mean, the number of flags per capita, the
celebrations of patriotism, the use of things like the Pledge of Allegiance that are extremely
rare in the world. The, the use of the national anthem at, you
know, every little event, not just international and major national ceremonies. This doesn’t seem to correspond to what we
saw in the first part of the book. I mean, you would think that if the, if the
United States really were the greatest at everything then it ought to have the the greatest
patriotism and sense of superiority. And yet it does have the greatest sense of
patriotism and superiority, and really a religious belief in it that that doesn’t rely on facts
in any way, and is almost its own religion with a, with a missionary sense of needing
to export it to others, to bomb other countries to spread democracy, to impose its will on
other countries, and to refuse to to look to other countries for what they might have
to offer. So the, the thinking part is is completely
separated from the, from the reality. And then, of course, this has a political
utility. There’s a reason that this kind of hypernationalist
exceptionalism view is so popular among not just the Republicans, but the Democratic Party
as well. And that is that this is how you can unify
the body politic behind all of these unpopular wars, behind many of these unpopular policies,
is the idea that well, we may be on the wrong track at the moment. Ultimately we’re still the good guys. We still are exceptional, and we’re still
benevolent at heart. So can you talk about how this is not just
an ideology that propagates from the bottom up, it’s actually the exact opposite? It’s explicitly an ideology that comes from
the top down. Can you talk about how this is encouraged
politically so the government can justify many of these unpopular actions? Yeah. This is, this is not a harmless, victimless
ideology where it’s just people loving their country and thinking it’s better than other
countries, and leave them alone with their delusion, who cares. This is a very, this is, to get to the third
part of the book, this is an ideology that does a great deal of damage. Including, as you’ve mentioned, mobilizing
people in support of wars against enemies, and thereby distracting people from domestic
issues of injustice. It does a great deal of damage to the United
States in terms of turning away what other countries have to offer. I mean, there’s a great deal to be gained,
not lost, by identifying with and sympathizing with and learning from the rest of the world. The United States turns away emergency aid
when it has a hurricane, and other countries offer aid. I mean, that national pride is more important
than saving people’s lives to the U.S. government. And the United States teaches people, and
by example demonstrates to people, that the rest of the world is to be devalued. So you have right now this conversation over
whether you should bomb Syria with a presidential decision, or bomb Syria after Congress authorizes
it, and that would make it legal. I mean, imagine if any other country on earth
were having a debate over whether to bomb Washington, D.C. Would our big concern be rather, whether they
were going to run it through their executive or their legislature? Who would care? It would be criminal. It would be immoral. It would be disastrous. We wouldn’t appreciate the bombs falling on
our heads. Regardless. And yet, because the United States thinks
of itself as so unique and independent and free of having to bother with the rest of
the world and its laws, this is the conversation, this is the extent of the debate. The United States, by the way, is outside
of more of the main human rights treaties of international law than almost any other
country, than any major country on earth, and yet depicts itself as somehow a law enforcer
when it runs around the world as a rogue nation, bombing other countries. So it’s this double standard that creates
so much disastrous outcome of, of exceptionalism. Well, on that note we’re going to have to
end Part 1 of our discussion here. I’m with David Swanson, and we’re talking
about his new book, “Curing Exceptionalism.” It is out now, you can buy it online and in
stores, and in paperback. And in the next part we’ll be discussing Parts
3 and 4 of his book, in which he diagnoses the damages that American exceptionalism causes. You know, you mentioned, David, to even people
within this country. I would say it’s of course poor and working
class people. The elites are the ones who benefit. But we’ll discuss that. And then David will also talk about what he
thinks some cures are for American exceptionalism. So thanks for joining us, David. Thank you. Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.

39 thoughts on “Debunking the Myth of American Exceptionalism, with David Swanson

  1. Tbh my favorite country in the world is America,americans are good people i met quite a few but their government is evil,greedy and brutal.I hope that they wake up and clean Washington of the trash.greetings from algeria.

  2. Fk American Exceptionalism. The Empire is dying, and I love telling people it is. Fk Trump, and Fk Trump supporters.

  3. Why would anyone expect anything moral from a country built with the explotation of human lives through slavery. It hasn't even made the descendants of those slaves whole yet. It has not changed.

  4. Most people who say that America is the greatest country in the world have never been to another country. Greatest by default is not inherently great.

  5. I think that the American denouement started with the Korean war, when I was fifteen. It was around 1955-1957
    that things began to come to a head, becoming unraveled after the JFK and RK assassinations and increased
    quickly during the past twenty five years. I see little hope for a correction in the future, and if I were a lot younger,
    I would return to southern Germany or eastern France. And so it goes.

  6. Even Hitler was for the protection of the environment.

    "Umweltschutz ist HeimatSchutz"
    Translates to same thing like
    "Environmental protection is homeland protection."

  7. The most exceptional country on the entire planet dropped twice nuclear bombs on civilians.
    The most exceptional country still executes death penalty.
    The most exceptional country still practices a modern form colonialism.
    The most exceptional country enslaves it's own citizens in a juridical system that produces prisoners in exceptional great numbers.
    The most exceptional country supports dictators and an apartheid state that claims to be a democracy.
    The most exceptional country starts on lies based wars to secure resources that they depend on even though they aren't their resources.

  8. # 35 in oecd countries….yea america….shows you what the real priorities are, war and empire not people. these are the same souls from atlantis and rome, they have learned nothing from their past. wash rinse repeat…

  9. 🇺🇸For those of you who are uninitiated in the Art of Academic manipulation, what activist David Swanson is doing called Bait & Switch.

    "American Exceptionalism" to him goes from being the greatest advocate for Liberal principles– to the unwavering belief that America is absolutely dominant in all categories of societal measurement.

    To disprove his hypothesis America would have to be Supreme in all things Statistically

    His standard of American exceptionalism is an easily disprovable strawman.

    He then goes on to bludgeon this straw man with accusations of racial Injustice environmental exploitation and the rest of the Emotional Marxist List of resentments towards Western civilization in general.

    I would love to catch one of these Postmodern Neo-Marxist out in the open. There bull s*** is so paper thin.

  10. The appeal to the Legislature is based on the assumption that it would act as a check on capricious Executive decisions, implying that the decision not to bomb would be just as likely.

  11. Humans are a fucked up species and there isn´t anything anyone can do about it. If you want to fix mankind, stop reproducing.

  12. Someone should write a book about "Curing the Deception of White Privilege", Corporate America and the Zionist are using that to perfection to destroy the world.

  13. American Exceptionalism is the most dangerous belief system in the history of the world. Ultimately, more people will die as a result of American Exceptionalism than any other belief system in human history.

  14. Excessive flags, national anthem, making kids pledge allegiance everyday, exceptionalism, militarised world domination…if it wasn't for Hollywood propaganda, America would be Nazi Germany.

  15. this really is the crux of problems in america, because if you think that your country is infallible and everywhere else is a shithole then you feel justified in supporting war criminals, and being ignorant about the rest of the world etc. Its amazing to me when americans say that French people, or Europeans are arrogant when the USA claims to be the "leader of the free world" all the while destroying freedom, suppressing democratic movements like the Arab spring, interfering with elections EVERYWHERE, even Australia for fucks sake. All the while your own country is a backwater in many respects, you are just the number one police state/military power… but even then, most of the technology invented in the USA is work done by immigrant whiz kids brought in from other countries

  16. If you have to fight to be the greatest anything, the US has proved it time and time again. Yup. We're 'exceptional' all right. Others might prefer Russia, China, Iran, Syria or N. Korea to be the global hegemon. Not me.

  17. America needs Psycho Therapy! Anyone or any "gov" that needs to feel "exceptional" over others has an insecurity issue. Using the LABEL "exceptional" despite the REALITY,, is no different than fiat currency,, backed by nothing

  18. He doesn't have to convince me. I got "woke" after watching Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. And lots more since then. Our economy is based on defending the Petrodollar and creating wars and selling armaments.

  19. American Exceptionalism is a new name for old fashioned Chauvinism: "My country, right or wrong!" HOW STUPID!

  20. David leaves some important truths out of the book. In discussing the Evian Conference (pp98-104), he repeats the trope that Franklin Roosevelt "chose not to make the necessary efforts to aid Jewish refugees, before, during, or after the conference." On page 29 of "Against Our Better Judgement," Alison Weir debunked that claim, "When FDR made efforts in 1938, 1943, and the British in 1947, to provide havens for refugees from the Nazis, Zionists opposed these projects because they did not include Palestine." She backs that thoroughly in the footnotes, citing John W. Mulhall, CSP, and Alfred Lilienthal. Notably, the Zionists who opposed Bernard Baruch's 1938 proposal included Brandeis and Frankfurter.

    I realize David's subject matter is American Exceptionalism, and brevity is important to capture a larger audience. It's important to correct our own faults rather than point fingers at others, so perhaps he should not be expected to pull a more general discussion of being "chosen" by God, and the similarities between the US and Israel into the discussion, but I have a responsibility to correct misinformation.

  21. The US has a Koch problem. Once we rid ourselves of this failed libertarian economic policy that has zero respect in the world, with the IMF and World Bank going around, holding up nations at austerity gunpoint to sink them into debt so that they are forced to forfeit their assets and resources… it's a private banking scam that the world is fed up with. Fiscal policy saved us in the Great Depression, it's the only thing that will save our nation now. It's time to kick the moneylenders (private bankers) out of the temple (government) and let government work they way it's designed.

    This is the most clear concise description of how the economy really works, not the worn out lies that people like Mitch McConnell keep repeating. Anyone would be able to understand this: designed.

  22. The idea that we aren't the greatest is a idea that needs to be debunked. That's how self absorbed and egotistical we are.

  23. I wonder than what it is that brings so many immigrants from across the globe to the US? These people have voted to leave their country of origin and come to the United States. If not exceptionalism or some sort of uniqueness then what is it that is bringing these people to our country.

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