the end of american exceptionalism

As a Canadian, I have long been impatient and angered at American exceptionalism; the belief that America shines above all other countries. Chants of U…S…A!!! sound egotistical to those of us used to a more subdued nationalism. At its worst, the chants sound like a rallying war cry against the rest of the world.

I bristle whenever I hear the American president described as the “leader of the free world” or “the most powerful man on earth”. I live in a free country with its own leaders. I am a Canadian, not an American. With the recent election of Donald Trump, I want to shout ever more forcefully, “your president is NOT my president!”

Trump fed this need for superiority with promises to make America “great” again. He preached a nativism that too often morphed into racism. He promised to build walls to keep the unwanted out, and to take away basic freedoms from those who are already in. He vowed to make American interests a priority, regardless of global ramifications. A “great” America meant a pure America, embracing its God-given role as leader of the world.

The history of the Catholic church shows us the dark side of exceptionalism. The deep seated belief that Christianity was the only true religion, and the Church of Rome was the sole heir of this religion, paved the way for horrific inquisitions and disastrous crusades. Religious exceptionalism nourished a spirit of superiority while feeding the populace on a regular diet of fear and distrust of the “other”. It turned the church into a militant fortress focusing more on fighting heretics than dialoging with other people of goodwill.

Examples of the exceptionalist model of church can be found today in extreme right wing church leaders, blogs and movements. Their voices are loud, proud, and too often filled with hateful rhetoric. They are the “heresy hunters”, bullies seeking out all who dare question the church or who do not live up to their narrow version of Catholicism.

Others, myself included, have had our images of a perfect church shattered long ago. The sins of the church have been laid bare to the shame of us all. We might try to stand back and claim no responsibility for the scandals and abuses, but we were all part of an institution that demanded, and received, blind obedience to both its leaders and its doctrine.

But, we do not despair. When we hit rock bottom, we believe that hope lies in reform. We must work together to rebuild the church. We have a pope who now calls us to leave behind the fortress mentality and head into the streets and bring gospel values and actions into the world.

Perhaps this is the message for America. It is time to let go of your exceptionalist mentality. The sins of history are not sins of your past. Sadly, they continue to be the sins of the present. The U.S. boasts of equality and freedom, yet this election has exposed your divisions to the world.

We have stood by in shock watching a mud-slinging, racist, misogynistic, hate-filled man become your president. Of course, one evil man does not a country make. And yet, we couldn’t believe the crowds that rallied to his support, men and women cheering as their candidate thumbed his nose at political correctness and basic human decency. Rudeness and crudeness was given a green light. It’s going to take a lot of work to restore civility into public discourse.

While the victors rejoice, many believe that America has hit rock bottom. There is a sense of a Great Depression, emotionally and spiritually, spreading not only across the U.S. but across the world. There is an old adage that when the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold. This whopper of a sneeze is being felt beyond North America.  Who knows how this virus will effect global politics, what epidemic it will bring?

I have little faith that President Trump will be any different than Businessman Trump or Candidate Trump. No, he will not make “America great again”.

It is time for America to face her historical and present day demons. It is time for honest introspection. It is time for reform. The reform might have to come outside of its bizarrely long, sinfully expensive and obviously flawed electoral process.

In moments of darkness, the light shines even brighter. Voices for dialogue, sanity, equality, justice and peace will not be silenced. They have just been handed a mandate to speak even louder. To challenge even more. To work ever harder.