The other day I saw something that said that Callista Gingrich, the third wife of Newt Gingrich, promotes the idea of American Exceptionalism. Honestly, the idea of promoting a particular nation or ethnicity over another is a bit scary to me. It becomes especially disconcerting when the person promoting it has bleached blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes, and dresses like she’s stepping out of a mid-twentieth century movie or sitcom where the womenfolk just weren’t quite as well informed as their husbands. Maybe that’s because I’ve watched too many documentaries on other countries and their beliefs about how they were more special than other people. Maybe it’s because there were countries during the early and mid-twentieth centuries that promoted the idea that not only were they more special, more deserving, and more super-cool, and when people didn’t agree with them, those extra-special and cool folks decided to force people into agreeing that they were awesome by threatening them with war, loss of life, loss of property, etc.
I tried to give Callista’s special video on America being the home of the coolest kids around, but halfway through the short (two-and-a-half minute) video, I was already feeling nauseated by the the rhetoric. Somehow, we are super special because God gave us special rights because we’re from a special nation. (She doesn’t understand that the very line she quotes doesn’t mention anything about the rights only being given to Americans and no one else. In fact, it says everyone is equal.) And while she’s giving the shout-out out to God for being the bestest sugar daddy in the history of the universe for giving us our coolness factor, this video, like so many propaganda films of the last century, displays various military images. Maybe it’s to inspire patriotism, but that was the excuse those other governments had almost a hundred years ago, too.
She may have innocent reasons for promoting American Exceptionalism, as may many others who have promoted it through the years. Still, I would hope that people would be more wary of the ideas of one country or one group of people within a country being more important than another. The ideas of empires, nationalism, and exceptionalism all rely on people placing more value on the lives of one group than another. That may seem like a basic tenet of being a good citizen, but it is also a basic tenet of ideologies that shaped Nazi Germany, a fascist Italy, and the far-right regimes that rules the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
When we start pretending that we are better than or more important than anyone else, we begin going down a dangerous path. If we hope to be a nation that promotes liberty and freedom, then we can’t accept the idea that we are, in any way, more deserving of freedom, respect, and liberty than any other group. When we start promoting the idea that we are better than anyone else, we forget that one very basic idea that existed at the very start of this nation: equality.