Monday, May 02, 2011

The Culture of American Exceptionalism

The news came across the wire: The U.S. Military had murdered Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks on the U.S. in September 2001.

Most of the people of my generation responded with some mixed feelings. Children of the ‘60s, many of us decried the violence. In my Facebook posts, I decried the goal of murder rather than justice.

Several of us –and I among them – lamented the crazy street demonstrations that burst out all over the U.S. From coast to coast, college-aged people took to the streets, cheering, jeering, swilling beer, waving U.S. flags and wearing U.S. flags, pumping their fists into the air as they chanted “USA! USA” or sang drunken versions of the national anthem.

When I first heard of those outbreaks in New York and Washington, DC, I was inclined to cut them some slack. I realized that these kids were just children when the attacks were unleashed on the U.S. in 2001.

Then I heard that a similar drunken orgy had launched here at the University of Missouri. These kids didn’t lose friends and family in 2001.

I began to wonder: What in the world is this?? Why are these 18-20 year olds moving into the streets with those flag-waving bacchanals?

Here’s the theory that came to my mind today. Today’s college-age students grew up in the age of President George W. Bush. They grew up in the Age of American Exceptionalism that Bush crafted. They grew up with a wicked President who launched policies that declared that America was so special that it did not need to obey international law. Bush and his Congress passed laws that eroded our civil liberties. They herded many of our nation into sheep-like surrender of our civil liberties. George Bush managed the feat of telling U.S. Americans that we were a law unto ourselves, while stripping our citizens of many liberties.

With that reflection, I am no longer surprised that our children flocked to the streets with the flags and their hideous cheers. President George Bush taught them that the U.S. is beholden to no law and no morality. The cheering, jeering, flag-waving, beer-swilling kids in the streets are the children of President George W. Bush.


Blogger Catherine said...

Powerful with truth.

5/02/2011 11:02 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, Catherine.

5/02/2011 11:12 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

Thank You, Thank You!

5/03/2011 3:17 AM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Yes. And you could have added that our current President has accepted the Bush model.

Got hope? Not anymore....

5/03/2011 5:37 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Alas, Doxy, I have to agree.

Glad I'm not alone, Mark. Thank you.

5/03/2011 7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I asked one of the kids I tutor about his celebrating and his reply was, "Didn't you celebrate Hitler's death?" I'm nowhere near old enough to have been around for WWII, but Bin Laden was the reason given for a lot of changes and horrors in his life-more security in airports and major gov't buildings, several local parks around dams etc. closed because of the possibility of attacks,bombings/attacks worldwide etc.

I wish I could say that if Obama or Gore had been president then there would be no TSA, etc. but I can't.

5/03/2011 8:08 AM  
Blogger johnieb said...

American Exceptionalism is a far deeper, more profound element of American culture than one president, or even the American government.

I think most 17-22 year old people are only beginning to have attitudes distinct from the cultural context they grew up in; the Sixties generation is the anomaly, not the rule.

America always has been one aspect of Western Imperialism; get used to it.

5/03/2011 9:01 AM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Powerful thoughts, Lisa, and ones that I did not connect with the "Bush generation" until you did. I guess I tend to be a little naive in believing that people really DO want to examine things from multiple sides, and that young people are even more equipped these days via technology to see all the sides better than my generation did.

Sigh. It appears not to be the case. I was quite surprised at the number of people on Facebook Sunday night that seemed to feel "gloating" was ok.

I feel relief that bin Laden's personal reign is over. I feel closure that our friends on the East Coast must have in the wake of 9/11. But I can't do exhilaration or joy on this one. I am glad I am not alone on that one.

5/03/2011 1:01 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Friends, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond last night. Now I’m back on it.

5/04/2011 8:08 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Chris H., thanks for that comment. I hope by now you’ve seen what I posted here this morning. After hearing an NPR story about some other college kids, I thought further. In that story, the college-age kids of Boston University talk about growing up with Osama bin Laden as their “Lord Voldemort.” I begin to understand how they grew up with a sense that he was the personification of evil – the person responsible for all the negative changes in our country. That interview helped me understand something of what you seem to be saying in your comment. It helped me understand something of the impulse that drove some young adults into the streets Sunday night.

You wrote: “I wish I could say that if Obama or Gore had been president then there would be no TSA, etc. but I can't.” Of course, none of us can predict what would have happened. But I believe that both Gore and Obama would have had a much, much higher view of civil liberties than George Bush and Dick Cheney have. So we’ll have to disagree on this point.

5/04/2011 8:09 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

You caught me in an oversimplification, JohnieB. You are right: The era of George W. Bush was certainly not the beginning of “the age of American exceptionalism”! I do recognize the imperial impulse pre-dates his regime. I was grossly oversimplifying, and that was sloppy.

Would you talk more about what you mean with “I think most 17-22 year old people are only beginning to have attitudes distinct from the cultural context they grew up in; the Sixties generation is the anomaly, not the rule.”? As a member of that ‘60s generation, I suspect I may know what you mean, but I’d like to hear from you.

5/04/2011 8:11 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Alas, KirkE, I understand the hope, but I see a narrowing of perspectives … as you apparently do. This is kinda “off topic” …. But I wonder if this is partly because of the change in the TV news in this country. When we were growing up, we had only three choices: the nightly news of ABC, CBS, or NBC. And all of them were moderate and mainstream. Now, folks can “silo” into their preferred news media, such as Fox News or MSNBC. There doesn’t be any shared dialogue now – just islands of opinion.

I, too, was surprised by some of my friends’ reactions Sunday night. I could not understand the “gloating” or celebration. I’ll confess I still can’t.

With three days of reflection, I think you here used the very best term I’ve yet heard: “relief.” In fact, Episcopal Café has posted some reflections from leaders of Islam who are using that very same term. I had no impulse to gloat, nor could I feel joy, nor could I grieve. Perhaps “relief” is the best description I can grasp. [And you were way ahead of all the talking heads!]

As for closure? I can’t well address that one. I certainly can’t guess what is going to bring “closure” to those who were directly affected by the September 2001 tragedies. Heck! I had a friend murdered in 1977, and I still don’t have anything I’d call “closure.” …

One of the helpful parts of this dialogue has been the very pointed lesson to me that I don’t have the right to tell anyone what “closure” means, and I need to be rather humble about how others express their reactions. I would not have responded like these young people did! But I now realize I need to be a bit more generous in making assumptions about what underlay their reactions.

5/04/2011 8:15 PM  

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