Richard Cohen is what passes for an opinion editorialist in the Washington Post — not a learned one, just a bloviating one. Cohen’s latest, “The Myth of American Exceptionalism,” is at the same time as self-loathing as it is historically stupid. Not only does this nonsense Cohen ladled out upon us all serve an example that you don’t have to actually know anything to be in our modern Old Media establishment, but it is evidence that the profession of editor is long dead.
In his ten paragraphs Cohen indulges every left-wing trope that one can find. Whites are all racist, we don’t do enough for “the poor” in America, Christianity is the root of all evil, and it all started in the 1850s when the Republican Party was born. Most ridiculously, Cohen a-historically seems to think that the art of compromise died in American politics when the GOP was born. This last bit alone is guffaw worthy to say the least.
Oddly, Cohen appears to imagine that the idea of American exceptionalism was born in the 1900s and does not date to the founding era. Regardless of when it was born, Cohen’s main point is that American exceptionalism does not really exist. His is the same sort of self-flagellation that all leftists indulge, the kind that says the USA is no better than, say, North Korea, or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Coehn starts his screed by quoting left-winger W.E.B. Du Bois, a man that led the African American community away from the ideals of determined self-reliance espoused by George Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington and toward the victimhood status that is so pervasive and destructive today. Naturally that quote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” sets Cohen’s piece right on the path that assumes all whites are racists — and that, presumably, makes American exceptionalism a lie.
Now, let’s put racism in a bit of historical perspective. America is not the only place on the planet where it exists nor was it born here. Yes, we had slavery, but we weren’t the first or the last to have it and we fought a war to end it. Yes, we had a unique racial problem in America, yet because of the ideals laid down by the founders — freedom and liberty for all — we beat it. Cohen does not see that because he does not want to see that.
Still, to Cohen, the idea of America’s exceptional nature is a “cult of American exceptionalism.” He scoffs at it. He derides it.
Cohen’s next a-historical “point” is this:
The phrase has an odd history. As Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz reminds me, American exceptionalism once applied to the hostility that the American worker — virtually alone in the industrialized world — had toward socialism. Now, though, it is infused with religious meaning, which makes it impervious to analysis. Once you say God likes something, who can quibble?
Cohen thinks that only lately the idea has become “infused with religious meaning”? This does not square with quotes from many of the founders wherein one can find all sorts of allusions to the concept that America is blessed by God and linked closely to Christian religion. In fact, many of the founders thought a Christian religious upbringing was essential to the nation’s success.
Thomas Jefferson thought that Americans had a unique gift from God. He said, “My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy.”
Benjamin Rush, for instance, once said, “the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion.”
Justice Joseph Story said, “There never has been a period of history, in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as laying at its foundation.”
George Washington said, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”
James Madison: “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.”
Another from James Madison: “Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as subject of the Governor of the Universe.” –James Madison
These are just a few. There are hundreds more.
It wasn’t just Americans that thought this, foreigners also thought America was exceptional. French traveler and writer Alexis de Tocqueville remarked many times on America’s greatness. All these quotes came long before the current era during which Cohen imagines only now has seen religion mixed with the idea of American exceptionalism. The fact is that the health and greatness of America has always, always been linked closely with the religion that Cohen seems to so despise.
Next Cohen claims that because we have a high murder rate and a high execution rate, why, that must mean the USA is not an exceptional nation. This, of course, leaves out the many thousands a year that China and Iran execute. I guess Chinese executions don’t factor into Cohen’s figuring because, well, that shoots down his claims, doesn’t it?
Cohen’s next angle of attack was to claim that our education system makes mockery of American exceptionalism.
American exceptionalism has produced a dysfunctional education system — more than 14,000 school districts, lots of bad (but job-protected) teachers, oblivious parents and students who are too dumb to know they’re dumb. American eighth-graders score 66 points below their Japanese counterparts in math, yet almost 40 percent of American children think they’re good in math. That figure for Japan is 4 percent.
I won’t dispute this as a straight fact. But why has this happened? Cohen is remiss not to say. Democrats and left-wing educational policy caused this disparity, not American exceptionalism. In fact, the idea of American exceptionalism has been torpedoed by these left-wingers in our mis-educational establishment and that has contributed to that decline. The fall of our educational system has only occurred in the era of American liberalism — an ideology that is antagonistic to American exceptionalism, just like Cohen is.
Cohen’s next bout of navel gazing centers on the trope of an American Indian genocide, something that has been readily debunked. Were the Indians treated with kid gloves? Hardly. But to say they were treated worse here than indigenous peoples elsewhere have been treated is a canard. The fact is that Indians were killing Indians for hundreds of years before we ever came along and their rivalries and racist sentiments were often employed against each other in coordination with whites.
Naturally, Cohen wants to claim that this focus on religion is only cover for homophobia, prayer coercion, traditional marriage supporters, and global warming denial — all left-wing worries, to be sure.
Then comes the oddest claim of all: that the GOP is responsible for the end of compromise and the Civil War.
The huge role of religion in American politics is nothing new but always a matter for concern nonetheless. In the years preceding the Civil War, both sides of the slavery issue claimed the endorsement of God. The 1856 Republican convention concluded with a song that ended like this: “We’ve truth on our side/ We’ve God for our guide.” Within five years, Americans were slaughtering one another on the battlefield.
Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter…
Lunacy. Apparently Cohen thinks that the GOP should have compromised on slavery! But even so, even if that was just an unclear notion and he does not think that, he seems to imply that there was all sorts of “compromise” going on before the Civil War and the birth of the GOP destroyed that harmonious America he longs for.
The stupidity of this is that the Slavocracy in the south, the Democrat Party of the era, had created in the 1830s what was called the gag rule, a policy that killed any discussion of the slavery question in congress. It’s a bit hard to engage in vaunted compromise when one cannot even discuss the issue! And this rule was born long before there was a Republican Party (born in 1854). Before that one has but to go back to the tough election of 1800 to see a dearth of the sort of compromise that Cohen seems to imagine was pervasive before the evil GOP was born.
Anyway, here is how he wraps up this laughable mess:
And yet clearly America must change fundamentally or continue to decline. It could begin by junking a phase that reeks of arrogance and discourages compromise. American exceptionalism ought to be called American narcissism. We look perfect only to ourselves.
It would be easier to argue that “fundamental change” is what has led to the decline that Cohen laments. We are not being led down the garden path by blind adherence to the ideal of American exceptionalism. We are being disrupted and laid low by his own creed of left-wing, Euro-centric, socialist idealism. That “narcissism” Cohen points to was born of FDR’s lurch to the left and cemented by LBJ’s disastrous “Great Society” ideals.
Cohen seems to know precisely nothing about history. Further he has no perspective on the history of the rest of the world and does not see the essential greatness that has always guided America to the greater freedom and liberty that has made it the light unto the world.