Opinion: The Idea of American Exceptionalism Is Related to White Supremacy

Walter Rhein

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Politicians have been making some odd arguments about what should be taught in schools. Some say that it’s important to teach American exceptionalism. But perhaps we should stop and consider whether it might be harmful to present students with a biased perspective on American history.

What is American exceptionalism? It’s the idea that America is a special nation that has certain additional responsibilities. The idea of American exceptionalism is a special form of patriotism that’s unique to our country.

Nobody has ever proposed that our population shouldn’t feel pride in the achievements of our country. The United States is the first nation to land a person on the moon.

American exceptionalism and patriotism are usually considered beyond reproach. Therefore, it’s odd when far-right groups are allowed to present conspiracy theories that the moon landing was staged.

It’s a simple fact that landing on the moon was a significant historical achievement. The name of the first person to walk on the moon should be a matter of significance for as long as the human race endures.

It’s also a fact that the United States needed to employ the services of a former Nazi scientist to get to the moon.

This is where you see problems with the concept of American exceptionalism. We can’t leave out facts about the moon landing because we want to have a rosy feeling about the achievement. Even at the time, there were some complaints that so much was being spent on space exploration when there were so many problems at home.

The word “exceptional” is too close to “superior” for my liking. Many Americans won’t hesitate to say that their country is superior to others.

Why do Americans feel they are “superior?” Neil Armstrong was the person who walked on the moon, but not every American.

I don’t think there’s any problem with having pride in your country. You should have pride in your country. You should be proud of where you come from. The problem comes when people start to believe their country is always right and should never be questioned.

In the United States, people often respond to criticism with statements like, “If you hate America, you should leave.” That’s an extreme response.

It’s wrong to think our country is perfect because it’s not. Healthcare costs are too high. Poverty is a problem. To a greater and lesser extent, the United States has to confront the same problems that confront the whole world.

My concern is that believing in American exceptionalism requires the population to disregard the existence of critical social issues. If we want to believe our country is “superior,” we have to ignore all the mistakes and crimes of our country.

People are often censored, criticized, or even canceled for having the courage to discuss real social issues.

Unfortunately, white supremacy is on the rise in the United States. It’s interesting to observe that this is happening at the same time that politicians are banning CRT and demanding to teach American exceptionalism at schools.

At what point does the general population recognize that our schools and media are promoting a message of propaganda rather than truth? If you can’t question the United States, then how much freedom do you have?

I’m concerned about any attempt to teach school-aged children that they are “superior.” The concept of American exceptionalism strikes me as a thinly veiled exercise in state-sponsored supremacy.

I feel it would be more productive to teach our children the truth about our country. They need to know both the good and bad. It’s very dangerous to try and erase history.

Instead of teaching American exceptionalism, let’s adopt a more humanitarian approach. We should recognize that our country has done some amazing things. However, we also need to be honest about the fact that our country is not perfect and that there are still a lot of problems we need to address.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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