American Exceptionalism, From Stalin To Palin

by evanmcmurry

Frank Rich’s cover story on the factitious concept of American decline is worth a read (long article short: American exceptionalism is being sold to the country as a blind for the fact that rocketing inequality has made economic exceptionalism unattainable). Most interesting, he links to this Atlantic piece that should (but won’t) shut up anybody who uses the term “American exceptionalism”:

In 1929, Communist leader Jay Lovestone informed Stalin in Moscow that the American proletariat wasn’t interested in revolution. Stalin responded by demanding that he end this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” And just like that, this expression was born. What Lovestone meant, and how Stalin understood it, however, isn’t how Gingrich and Romney (or even Obama) frame it. Neither Lovestone or Stalin felt that the United States was superior to other nations — actually, the opposite. Stalin “ridiculed” America for its abnormalities, which he cast under the banner of “exceptionalism”…As the Great Depression enveloped the United States, Stalin’s argument — if not his bluster — seemed well grounded. “Exceptionalism was a disease, a chronic disease,” wrote communist S. Milgrom of Chicago in 1930. “The storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism,” the American Communist Party declared at its convention in April 1930.

D’oh. Conservatives believe the phrase to have been coined de Tocqueville. But even this should be problematic for them, as equality was half of de Tocqueville’s American equation, the part that regulated the freedom half and kept it from creating the vastly unjust society that Rich and others contend we’ve become. Sample chapter from Democracy in America: “Why Democratic Peoples Show a More Ardent and More Lasting Love for Equality than for Freedom.” Plus he was a French aristocrat.

Rich goes on to show how the use of the term in the modern conservative sense didn’t even exist before the 1980s and didn’t gain its current feverish prominence until Sarah Palin started using it toward the end of the 2008 campaign to mean “what Obama is not.” The only president to have used the term in the 83 years since Stalin invented it? Obama.

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