Thursday, January 20, 2011

Media: Twisted American Exceptionalism

After a few addictive years in the US, our household sometimes can’t help itself and hooks into Fox News. Sadly, Australians aren’t offered the equally tendentious but left-leaning MSNBC, a lack of fairness and balance easily explained by the identity of the owner of both our cable provider (Foxtel) and its American stablemate. 
Last weekend, on Fox News’s The Journal, I was astounded by this statement from Dorothy Rabinowitz, who is on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. She was commenting on the reaction to the Tucson shootings, including President Obama's address
Dorothy Rabinowitz

Let me say that this whole event must have told people around the world what a nation we are. 
I cannot think of any other nation that talks about itself as a family. You can go around Europe.

Does Rabinowitz know or care that at the very moment she uttered that garbage, tens of thousands of people were out in Queensland, armed with shovels and mops to help out total strangers whose houses had been inundated by the floods ?
That Australia’s foreign minister was in hospital being treated for an infection he suffered while wading through floodwaters to help people (foreign students among them) and rescue their belongings?
That across Australia, we shed tears for every life lost, every home or livelihood destroyed?
There were people in Victoria, 3000km away, whose own houses were underwater in floods that have assumed almost biblical proportions, who dismissed their own predicament and urged us to focus our thoughts on their fellow Australians in Queensland. 

Does Rabinowitz have any inkling of an idea about how Australians responded to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre ? How, despite opposition from lobby groups funded by the Christian Coalition of America and their National Rifle Association, 643,000 firearms – the per capita equivalent of nearly 10 million in the US – were surrendered by their owners? Or how overwhelming public opinion forced heavy restrictions on self-loading and other firearms and Australians universally approved an income tax levy to compensate gun-owners who had parted with their weapons? 
Doe she have any idea of the grief-stricken vigils held across the country after the Port Arthur massacre, or the foundations established to support child victims of violence? 

So, Ms Rabinowitz, are we not a family? If you prick one of us, do we not all bleed?

I’m not claiming any special quality for Australia or Australians here. All around the world people, communities and whole nations come together to grieve and to celebrate, to help and support one another in times of emergency and disaster.
And all around the world, citizens have a perfectly well-developed sense of themselves and their country as a single and singular entity – a family, if you like. 

So where do you get off, Ms Rabinowitz?

American Exceptionalism is a concept that holds that America, due to its origins, natural bounty and founding creed, is different and singular. 

But this is American Delusionism, a malign mutation that holds that America and everything American is better than anywhere and anything else.
Sadly, this distortion of the concept of American Exceptionalism is not confined to Rabinowitz. We heard ad nauseam on Fox during the US health care debate the absurd notion — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the US has The Best Health Care System in the World . This became a rarely-challenged (and never on Fox!) mantra of the medical insurance industry and the politicians that did their bidding. 
Similarly, during the US car manufacturers’ crisis, the public was assured that Detroit made The Best Cars in the World, even as US consumers were begging to differ.

There’s a sinister, unspoken logic to American Delusionism as practised by Rabinowitz and her ilk: as those traits she ascribes to Americans alone are human qualities, then only Americans are wholly human — that those Europeans, and those Africans and Asians and South Americans and, yes, we Australians, are, in a sense, sub-human.

It’s disgusting utterances like these that give purpose and legitimacy to those who wish America harm and, more damagingly, confuse and dishearten her friends. They should be disavowed by any American who values their country’s standing in the world.  

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