Americans have to get over the lie of American exceptionalism in order to confront the evils that are done in our name

who are AmericansWho are Americans? An “exceptional people” or just human beings? Where did we come from, and how did we gain our identities? Why do we perceive things as we do? Let’s strip it down to basics and build up from there.

The process of evolution provided us with adaptions we needed for our survival, some of which are still necessary, many of which are not. But some of these adaptions are now liabilities. This includes our violent hostility toward anyone perceived as different. Conversely that also includes blind loyalty to those that we perceive as being like ourselves.

We think we have a strong sense of right and wrong, even though much of this moral compass is determined by who we like and who we don’t like. If someone we like, or follow, says something is right or wrong, we generally agree. Anyone questioning “why” is generally shut down.

The alpha male holds power and to question him is to be considered his enemy, and therefore the enemy of your group. When there are more than one alpha male, our world is riven with division and conflict.

When there are times of crisis, it is nearly impossible for us to publicly question our leader. To do so would endanger our connection to our family and friends, our social standing and position, and even our very lives. So we override any moral qualms.

This explains our enormous capacity for self-deception. Without this, we could never maintain our communal bonds to those in our group, let alone our leader.

While we are capable of seeing and understanding that what our group is doing is ethically wrong, we can’t ever correct our course until horrors have already unfolded. Should an alpha male’s reign end in economic and ethical quagmires, as it did under Bush/Cheney, we are slow to react. We cannot bring ourselves to even believe the facts in front of our faces, let alone punish those responsible.

Because to punish those responsible means we would have to take responsibility for our part in atrocities. We elected Bush. We then invaded Iraq. The blood of innocents is not only on the hands of the Bush administration, it’s on the hands of all Americans who got caught up in the childish revenge fantasy constructed for them.

This is not limited to the horrors of wartime action. We let financial institutions sink the economy, and not only do we not punish them, we bail them out. Oh sure, we slapped restrictions on them, but that was only a little time out, we just gave them license via the CRomnibus to do it all over again.

And whatever happened to those who turned out to be right in the first place? Remember Phil Donahue? He strenuously opposed invading Iraq. It ended his career. He was right, but where is he now? Why do we stigmatize those who tell the truth?

We aren’t any better or any worse than most other people. “American Exceptionalism” is a sad joke. The truth is simply that we are very standard issue when it comes to societies, both in the present, and reaching back throughout history.

Americans are not sadists, we’re just easily fooled. We didn’t invade Iraq to expand an oil empire, we were “bringing Democracy abroad!” No, we didn’t institute the torture camps. We just watched.

Those who don’t want to change from this, progress from this, are deceptive or ignorant. As always, the answer is to follow the money. That will tell everyone whose agenda is getting met, and whether it’s good or bad for America and the world. To give away that ending: it’s very bad.

This is what happens in an oligarchy. Decisions about your nation’s direction are made by the elite, the super-rich. Those so far removed from humanity, from associating with everyday people, that the rest of us are nothing to them but playthings. They see themselves as our masters, and we let them think that.

These next two years will bring about a great many difficulties to the nation. We have elected, or more accurately, chosen to abstain from electing, the current majority in Congress. A majority who has learned that obstruction works.

Those who say we need to “go back” are advocating regression. Regression for women. For the LGBT community. For ethnic minorities. For Immigrants. For America.

Who are Americans? Wealth-worshipping, former slave-owning torturers. Weapons salesmen, undermining democratically elected governments. Slanderers of foreign cultures. Champions of capital punishment. Exporters of poverty. Importers of poverty, for that matter. That is who Americans are, and where they’ve come from.

It is past time for Americans to re-define who they are. It is time to break the cycle of falling back under the sway of the same old charlatans, just when we were making progress.

Who are Americans? That is up to all of us to decide, not a chosen few. But that is how we are seen the world over now. It’s long past time to re-invent our identity.

Chad R. MacDonald has a degree in English literature from Cape Breton University and subsequently received a full scholarship to AMDA in New York City. He is a former security professional, veteran of the hospitality industry, and experienced in both the arts as well as administration.He has been writing all his life, likes baseball, hockey, literature, science, the arts, and marine photography.Chad lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and their gigantic cat.


  1. Per reading your column, it seems evident that you fully immersed yourself in the spirit of Festivus; i.e., my initial reaction was “I hope that made him feel better!”

    The column makes valid points that have important—even fundamental—implications. But they get lost and/or lose credibility in what sometimes seems a sea of generalizations, a tidal wave of hyperbole and a metaphor (evolution) that can’t bear the weight of the point you’re trying to make.

    Your ambitions are admirable, but it seems an overreach to imagine that, in a relatively brief essay, one can even begin to deal with the myriad anthropological, sociological, psychological, historical and even geographical issues that have played into the evolution of what passes, in popular terms, as America’s “national identity.”

    For that matter, one wonders if we can seriously posit, in the context of an emergent multi-culturalism taking root in the ever-widening, almost Manichean fractures of the always illusory “American way of life,” that there is a single, identifiable “national identity.” Which begs the question of who the “we” is in your question, “Why do we perceive things as we do?” Americans in general? Please.

    Your description of “who Americans are and where they’ve come from” is, quite simply, abominable in its overwrought generalizations and simplistic approach to American history. That this country has, at various times and in various places, been guilty of each of the transgressions mentioned is undeniable. But there have been significant movements standing in opposition to each of those “transgressions” in every time when they were manifest—past and present. We have not lacked for prophetic voices that called into being prophetic communities of action.

    I’m certainly not trying to make a case for American “exceptionalism.” And I think a case can easily be made that, over the past 35 years and over the past 15 years, we have, economically, socially and culturally, lost ground that had been painfully gained. But a less ambitious column, more tightly-written, more specific and with a little less volume, might have turned what seems a first-draft rant into an opinion piece well worth pondering.

    P.S. I suspect you weary of my critiques. That’s okay by me. I have had students weary of them for many years—one should ask me to serve on his/her doctoral committee only after great consideration and perhaps even prayer. But, when intelligent, credible points and interesting, credible observations are clouded by issues of articulation, I have difficulty holding my tongue.

  2. Well, well, well. So many complaints about the most exceptional nation on the face of the planet, populated by people whose feet are of clay, and writers and pundits whose feet are of the same clay, and stand around bitching and moaning how we “are not exceptional” while making no effort to pursue adherence to the specific rules that made this nation “eceptional” in the first place. Any of you folks commenting here, including you, Chad, ever heard of the United States Constitution? Did you know we are the only nation on the planet where telling the truth about any corruption that the public has a right to know about is an absolute bar to prosecution for defamation of character? Did you know we are the only nation where government is prohibited from interrogating us under penalty of perjury without probable cause of criminal conduct? The only nation where we have the absolute fundamental right to petition government for a redress of grievances? A fundamental right to a government that obeys the rule of law just like we are required to obey? The ONLY nat8ion on the planet where the people have a right to protect their liberties, in the final extremis if necessary, with force of arms? Instead of bitching and moaning, why aren’t you standing up and demanding government obey the Constitution that founded it, every time, no exceptions, no excuses — like the Tea Party Conservatives you so virulently hate? It is you folks who want to destroy the rule of law, so you have no grounds to complain when you see the success of your efforts.

  3. As a long-time forward-thinking feminist guy, I stand behind your rant, Gretl. As long as binary, patriarchal, white hegemonic control exists in our society, things will stay as they are. Unfortunately, it is the binary, patriarchal, white controllers who determine successors… which will end up being invariably consistent with how things are currently, so it’s just a vicious circle until enough people can find a way to break out of it.

    • >>”Unfortunately, it is the binary, patriarchal, white controllers who determine successors… which will end up being invariably consistent with how things are currently, so it’s just a vicious circle until enough people can find a way to break out of it.”
      In other societies it can be a binary, with any sort of hierarchy, and It isn’t just white folks who fall prey to this sort of stupidity. It is a human thing. It is even a chimp thing, a primate thing.

      If I were king, I would act like a king.

  4. This is so well written and terrifying. However, it’s time for me to pull the sexist card. If not for the “alpha male” as you refer to it. From my own personal experience with men including my ex-husband and sons father (specifically absent or abusive fathers including not paying child support), contractors, mechanics, clergy, police, employers who sexually harassed me, the negligence of rape kits, the constant discussion of women’s reproductive rights, pornography, gun nuts, the NRA, the management of professional sports, the local elected officials, the state elected officials, up to Washington, D.C., these alpha males are the the individuals leading the death nell of this country. I’m not saying all women are great because they aren’t. A lot of women are crazy…and most have been DRIVEN crazy. Can we have that discussion? I’m not bitter, I’m just a realist and I treat all people with respect but the “we as a nation” is really the “alpha males of the nation” and that means all males. Rant over and great article. P.S. I should have used semi-colons.

  5. thank you for writing what I’ve been trying to express for so long. your answers are spot on and terrifying. I am terrified because the direction “we the people” have allowed our elected officials to take this country will leave my “middle class” children and grandchildren paupers asking their masters “please sir may I have some more”

  6. In regards to your statement “The truth is simply that we are very standard issue when it comes to societies, both in the present, and reaching back throughout history”… this is so true. Americans somehow think they are “more than” and “better than” other societies and cultures. This goes right along with an article I’m writing about ethnocentrism in America, and the ideologies held by so many of its citizens. People need to wake up and realize that there are other countries in the world and each has its own culture and political structures and that not one of them is “superior.”

Leave a Comment