I’ve sometimes wondered what was meant by American “exceptionalism.” The term had a ring of smug superiority to it. A recent article by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker broadened my perspective, however.
Gopnik pointed out that autocracy has been the default mode of social ordering throughout human history. That sheds enormous light on how America is not “normal.”
The ever foundering American experiment in representative government goes against the human grain. Flawed from the outset, corrupted by slavery and “manifest destiny,” perennially messy and tainted by human foible, tortured into the present by gerrymandering and civil war, the idea of America strives fitfully to be an exception to the ancient, ever-present fallback of dictatorship.
It makes it more understandable, if no less sad, that the country’s fragile experiment in liberal democracy has teetered very recently, poisoned by the likes of Cruz, on the brink of a mob’s gibbet.
“America is good at protecting itself against the last thing that happened.”
Thus wrote Annie Karni, NYTimes White House Correspondent, on January 20th, about the barbed wire shrouding the nation’s Capitol since January 6th.
The occasion was Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s inauguration. The experiment will live another day, it seems. May it survive the next thing.
(c) 2021 JMN