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Neikrie’s Notes: American Exceptionalism

Neikrie’s Notes: American Exceptionalism

By Jamie Neikrie

Since coming to New Zealand, I have heard my fair share of America-bashing. Too often, these stereotypes and stigmas are true. Americans are a self-centered breed, convinced that their country is the epicenter of the world. After all, only Americans call the United States “America,” forgetting that there are two continents worth of people who consider themselves Americans. I have heard plenty of other criticisms, of American greed and capitalism, but as a political journalist, what stings the most are the negative sentiments directed toward American politics.

In U.S history books, American democracy is the little engine that could, an improbable experiment in government and culture that, by all accounts, should have collapsed into a disorganized, fragmented jigsaw of combating nationalities. To New Zealanders, however, American democracy is an overbloated wreck, barely surviving on its own sense of self-importance.

I admit, I am a bit envious of New Zealand politics. I recently wrote about New Zealand’s political agility, specifically their prowess when it comes to gun control legislation and federal minimum wage laws. Kiwis have extraordinary access to their politicians and leaders. Without the emphasis on money and name-recognition in campaigns, they also have an unparalleled ability to affect change in any given election year. Those are the benefits of living in a country with a population smaller the some U.S cities.

The irony is that you no longer need to leave the U.S to hear American-bashing. As support for Congress drops to all-time lows, cynicism is at an all-time high in the United States. A recent poll showed that 64 percent of U.S parents don’t want their children to go into a career in politics. To most Americans, politics has become a dirty industry and a thankless job, where you have to sacrifice your morals and values just to get ahead.

I can’t say why I so vehemently disagree. I can’t claim to be a child of government, pulled onto my feet by welfare programs. I can’t even claim to be a product of great American education. But somewhere along the way, I developed an unyielding faith in American democracy. Politicians, despite their squabbling and power-mongering, become politicians to help people. They are social leaders, who believe they have the ideas to improve our country.

This is, of course, also the liberal side of me speaking. Conservatives see American government is much the same way that the rest of the world does; a bureaucratic, oversized mess that can’t do the simplest of tasks (like, say, run a healthcare website). But to focus on the failures of would be to ignore the good that the Affordable Care Act has done, creating competitive market places to provide affordable healthcare to every American and expanding Medicaid to insure that no American is unprotected. And to focus on the failures of American democracy would be to overlook centuries of improbable progress, to undervalue an institution that unites so many cultures under the same values and goals.

The rest of the world hates American patriotism. And with good reason. Too often, American patriotism curdles into American exceptionalism and sheer ignorance. For every “America the Beautiful” there is “America the all-powerful.” For every pragmatist like Woodrow Wilson, who sought to use America’s influence to create world peace, there is a power monger, who uses America’s power to interfere and tamper in world politics. You can’t get too far without hearing the phrase “greatest country in the history of the world.”

And yet, I see American patriotism waning, and it saddens me. While I am admire New Zealand and its political system, my visit here has only increased my sense of patriotism. I am proud when the United State’s news makes the front page in New Zealand, because, for better or worse, U.S policies affect the rest of the world. I am proud when I see the jerseys and colours of American sports teams on the other side of the world. I am proud that Holden manufactures a car called the Colorado, which it doesn’t actually sell in the U.S (explain that to me).

No doubt, the America is a flawed country. But it is my flawed country. And, in many ways, it is the world’s flawed country. The United States runs like a poorly oiled machine, absorbing and synthesizing different cultures and traditions, spitting out an American amalgamation. It is a crude process, but a strangely beautiful one.

Wilson’s magnum opus was the League of Nations, a world governing body to represent the interest of every country. He may not have succeeded in creating world peace, but if President Wilson wanted to see the benefit that American influence can have on the world, he need only have hopped on a plane and picked a destination.


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