Vonnegut <=> American Exceptionalism

It struck me, on skimming Vonnegut recently, that the extremely negative view of America expressed by Vonnegut (and many others on the left) is simply the flip side of the coin of the "American exceptionalism" seen most often on the right. The idolatrous attitude that sees America as a "chosen nation," and that makes a religion out of Americanism, is precisely what produces the view of America as demonic when that idol is revealed as having feet of clay.

What neither side can accept is that America is a nation pretty much like any other in history, with its very good and very bad sides, and all sorts of other sides in between.

I love my family. But to love them, I don't have to delude myself into thinking they are "the greatest family on earth." And if I did so delude myself, it could easily produce a backlash, if I became disillusioned, in which I would come to believe that mine is the worst family on earth. No, I love them (in a special way) because they are my family.

Believing your country is the "greatest on earth" demonstrates, in fact, a deficit in patriotism: jingoism is the result of not loving one's country for what it is, instead loving a fantasy image of it that one has created oneself (with the help of other jingoists, of course).

But this idolatry is ingrained deeply in our national psyche: can you imagine what would happen to a political candidate who ever dared to whisper: "America is really just one more national actor in the broad sweep of history"? He would be branded a heretic, and could never again be elected even as dogcatcher.


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