Why The Real Test of American Exceptionalism is Now
umair haque
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Perhaps in any nation there are opposing instincts, to either be open and kind and benevolent, trusting and friendly, or to be suspicious, distrustful, closed to others who look or speak or worship in different ways. Cultural traditions may run deeper and older than organized religions, and may instill instincts in the citizenry which respond one way or the other. When those who desire power learn to manipulate those instincts, seeding uncertainty and dark myths about the sinister ambitions of the others, whoever they may be, those dark agents can erode the framework of a culture, or a civilization, in a single generation.

We live in a time of struggle for the vaunted purity of our nation’s mythology; the civil rights era saw us bear witness and rise to a higher standard, as the lies and ugliness were laid bare for all to see. We have made dramatic advances, but many have pushed back, regrouped, shifted forms and come back again to challenge our better natures. They have striven to erode confidence in genuinely good institutions, particularly public schools, and we already see how uncritical, undereducated minds are so much more susceptible to fake news, conspiracy theories, the most preposterous, ridiculous garbage further fueling more distrust in real stories.

The power of positive thinking is an old-fashioned cliche, in this post-post-modern age, but some aphorisms deserve repetition anyway. We are better than this. We are all in this together. Do the right thing.

Just today a news snippet showed working Americans in Maine, clueless about any national issues, some acting proud to have never voted, yet failing to connect their local problems with larger matters which have local repercussions. They were ripe for the faux Populism of a Trump, because they did not take the time to inform themselves about real things, waiting for a patronizing father figure to lay it all out in simplistic terms for them to grab on to. Yet, I bet any one of them could describe in detail which quarterback was the last draft pick of their favorite NFL team, who had the best receiving average, who was the biggest loss, out on injured reserve, and why the stupid limp-wristed concussion protocols were another lame liberal conspiracy designed to eviscerate our grand national pastime, just like their damn EPA regulations. In other words, a community of hard-working but self-described victims of some others, outsiders. These folks were willfully, and selectively ignorant, not lacking in time or energy, but in a spirit of larger community, without trust in those other Americans like them working in jobs to protect and advance the nation. The working aphorism here is Divide and conquer.

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