Poet's Notebook: No exceptions

America as Chosen Country, an idea whose time hasn’t come.

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click to enlarge Poet's Notebook: No exceptions - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
Poet's Notebook: No exceptions

…And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Back in the days when men were men, and the U.S. was always #1, we had four very active little children. We picnicked, played ball, climbed trees, swam and had the usual outdoor activities to run off their youthful energy so we could lull them to sleep at night. One of our favorite memories is when we ran short races: one after another, they’d tumble across the finish line (namely, us), and as the youngest approached, toddling far behind, Jeanne would throw up her arms and proclaim, “And here comes… the fourth winner!!”

Women seem naturally more attuned to the New Dispensation, where worldwide engagement and encouragement work a tad better than bonking each other on the head and claiming victory. Cooperative competition is gaining ground. Despite the Congo, the volatile Middle East, and the Taliban’s inhuman targeting of young girls wanting an education, the world overall is less warlike than it used to be. The European Union’s Nobel Peace Prize, quixotic or dippy as it seems to many observers, is a simple recognition of this fact: Europe, historically a flat field for mutual slaughter, has been bloodless since the EU’s beginning as the ECSC (European Coal & Steel Community) in 1951.

In the U.S, whose long-running wars are winding down, newly re-elected President Obama has already taken part in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to talk with, as he promised, our rivals and allies in the area, including in his trip an historic visit with Myanmar’s peace activist Aung Suu Kyi (who spent over 15 of her 67 years under house arrest).

Obama’s reelection reinforces the idea of mutual worldwide cooperation, as a Mitt Romney victory would have cut against it. On the stump, the Republican was by far the more bellicose campaigner, promising, when elected, to wave his fists at Iran, China, Russia, and Afghanistan. And that was just on the first day.

This year “American exceptionalism” was literally built into the GOP’s platform. And Romney’s book, No Apology: the Case for American Greatness, criticized Obama for pointing out the plain truth that people in every country, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, think they’re exceptional.

Unfortunately, the term has been taken up by bloviators like Rush Limbaugh, who once said we should “wipe out” anyone who isn’t us. Pushing an ultra-patriotism, they attack Obama as a soft and “apologetic” world leader. (To some of us, of course, he’s not soft enough.)

Exceptionalism is a bad idea and a worse policy. It fueled the scandals in the Catholic Church, as well as at Penn State and the Boy Scouts; in this context, “exceptionalism” means “too big to criticize.” People who question America’s military are unpatriotic. People who censure the church are atheists. People who find fault with capitalism are communists. (Even for these lovable Poet’s Notebooks, I’ve been called all three.)

CNN’s exit poll showed an 18 percent gender gap in favor of Obama, significantly higher than in 2008. The patriarchal Tea Party embraces exceptionalism because it’s basically a religious idea: My religion is better than yours. Why? Because it just is. It sees America as the Chosen Country, stronger and better than any country in the world, or even the galaxy.

In this debate, the Democrats hold the majority of women, and have Hillary Clinton in the wings. The Republicans may have lost Governor Romney, but they still have Rush Limbaugh to guide them.

…Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

—Both quotes from “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).

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