What actually defines exceptionalism?
According to Merriam-Webster, exceptionalism is the condition of being different from the norm. So why do we, as Americans, believe that we’re so great? Sure, America was founded on the ideals of “freedom” and “individual liberties” and “equal opportunity”, but what good are those ideals if we can’t continue to enforce them today?
Throughout America’s history, recurring themes such as discrimination and inequality have been increasingly relevant in society, each coming wave brings more discomfort with the idea of “American Exceptionalism”. How can we be positively different from the norm when anyone who isn’t a middle or upper class white man has experienced discrimination?
The wage gap, which is alive and well, is one thing that tears down the idea of American Exceptionalism. How does a salary difference of $10,762 embody the idea of equal opportunity? Those in support of American Exceptionalism tend to spout things such as “Wage gaps exist because of personal choices.”, when the wage gap exists in every industry, regardless of education level. Women of ethnic origins, such as African American and Latina, face ever harsher pay cuts, reaching all the way down to 55 cents to every dollar a man makes.
Racism is another issue that plagues modern day America. Racial profiling is an issue that seems to, yet again, tear down the idea of American Exceptionalism. In 2011, NYPD stopped 168,126 young african american men. These young men accounted for 25.6% of all stops made that year. 25.6% seems high enough on its own, but when you take into account that the targeted demographic only makes up 1.9% of New York’s population, it’s clear that there is something going on. NYPD made 24,760 stops that included young white men in the same year. The population of young white men comes out to about 2%, almost even with the young african american demographic.
Some may argue that America is exceptional as it is now, but what they don’t realize is that current trends in test scores (compared to those of other countries), are below average. What good is an exceptional society when it’s not secured in the next generation? Jack Buckley, a commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, said that American test scores are “stagnant”, and also informed the public that “We’re not seeing any improvement for our 15-year-olds.”
The reality is that the very idea that America is the best at everything and better than everyone is in no way true. It’s worrisome, as this article discusses, that some people are so blind to other countries that they cannot comprehend the fact that America isn’t incredibly special. “The actress and Democratic activist Eva Longoria, who apparently has never heard of France, was ruthlessly mocked this week for her claim that the United States ‘is the only country that promotes monolingualism.’ Both of the assumptions behind that statement are false: The United States does not promote monolingualism, and some other countries, and would-be countries such as Quebec, do.” Sure, it may just be another air-headed celebrity, but it demonstrated how citizens are so quick to assume that America is unique and special without any basis in fact.
The idea of American Exceptionalism cannot exist without anything that could definitively set us apart from any other country.