President Biden, however, refused to renounce the spirit of American excellence. During his election campaign and early weeks in office, he invoked the country’s supposedly unquestionable spirit. “It’s never, ever a good bet to bet against the Americans,” Biden said during main address on Thursday where he announced plans by his administration to make vaccines available to all Americans by May.
“America is coming back,” Biden continued. “The development, production and distribution of vaccines in record time is a true miracle of science. This is one of the most unusual achievements that any country has achieved. “
The president left out the vital role that multinational companies and scientists have outside the United States in assisting in the development and production of coronavirus vaccines. And then came a bigger rhetorical boom: “And we also just saw the land of Perseverance Rovers on Mars – stunning images of our dreams that are reality today, another example of America’s extraordinary ingenuity, dedication and faith in science and in each other,” Biden said. .
This is not shallow triumphalism. Unlike some of his Republican counterparts, Biden uses rhetoric nuanced by grief over pandemic tributes and sober recognition of the work to be done. His administration, unlike that of former President Donald Trump, will not run discredited commissions who are trying a mandate to teach American excellence in schools or consider, as the Trump Commission did, materials to teach about the sins of that country’s past as a threat to “civic ties that unite all Americans”.
Biden seems to believe in the virtuous power of the American example. He and his allies support the vision of the country as that “city on a hill,” a Puritan lighthouse to the rest of the world that acquired currency in American politics as Cold War tensions grew. They see the Trump administration’s ultranationalist agenda “America first” as a betrayal of that legacy and hope to redeem it with efforts like a motivated “democracy summit” later this year, backed by an implicit belief in the correctness of American values and liberal ideals. (Not surprisingly, the summit already is a legion of skeptics.)
“Rarely have the differences been portrayed as vividly as in recent weeks and months,” they wrote, pointing, in one case, to a lack of reliable clean running water in Texas neighborhoods not far from NASA’s control room that ran that space-era vehicle Biden celebrated to Mars. “Historical breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology coexist intimately – and with discomfort – along with monumental failures in infrastructure, public health and equal access to basic human needs.”
On so many levels, Biden’s America is not particularly exceptional. Compared to many other societies in the developed world, its citizens are less healthy,, less sure, and less educated. His political system is increasingly visible its anachronistic defects.
“While much can be appreciated about a government that has survived civil and world wars and moved forward, albeit slowly, by providing extended rights to many of its citizens, including immigrants, it is time to end the myth of American exceptionalism,” wrote Scott Warren, founder of the National civic organizations, Generation Citizen a column that cited a pervasive lack of trust in the American public in the federal government and often superior outcomes achieved by voting systems in certain other countries. “Not only is the concept not true, but perhaps more importantly, there is a lot we can and should learn from democracies in the rest of the world.”
Then there’s the country’s physical infrastructure – from power grids, utility lines and broadband networks to ports, roads and railways, all of which need generational repairs and upgrades. “The Eisenhower administration was a real time when we really had a goal or vision for our infrastructure,” Joseph Kane, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told my colleagues. “We are now in an essentially second era with a more unpredictable and extreme climate, more inequality and a lack of accessibility. We still do business as if they were in their fifties. ”
American exceptionalism is a theological principle, “a claim not of fact but of faith,” wrote commentator Peter Beinart. It is a kind of “magic thinking” that puts on a wise strategy. Consider, Beinart suggests, the current stalemate with Iran: Tehran wants to achieve at least some degree of easing of sanctions if it returns to a nuclear deal whose terms were first lifted by the Trump administration. But Biden and his allies are so far indicated the ball is on Iranian ground for the first move.
“No matter what America has done, Iranian leaders should take American benevolence for granted,” Beinart said. observed. So why would you?
“This magical thinking is a serious problem of American foreign policy,” he wrote. “It’s a problem because it blinds American policymakers to the way the United States looks at non-Americans who, quite naturally, judge the United States not by their self-concept, but by their actions.”