A Real Hero: Redefining American Exceptionalism

I’ve always been the kind of person who runs songs into the ground. If I find something I like, I play it, and play it and play it, over and over — till something else comes along to dominate my attention. Doesn’t really matter if the song is new, or old – when a song matches my mood perfectly, I tend to ride with it till my mood changes. Recently, I’ve been running College’s A Real Hero; many of you may remember the joint from the soundtrack to the film Drive. It’s the sort of melodic, synthy, eighties-ish joint you can listen to a million times without ever really hearing; and that’s precisely what I’d been doing – listening to it, but not hearing it. That all changed over this past week.

Back against the wall and odds. With the strength of a will and a cause. Your pursuits are called outstanding, you’re emotionally complex.

One of the themes of this year’s Presidential Election has been the concept of American Exceptionalism: The idea that there is a special something woven helically into our DNA that makes us different … Not only from the rest of the world, but also from the rest of our species’ history. Most folks trace this American Exceptionalism ideology back to Alexis De Tocquevile. In his mind, the equality, liberalism, freedom and laissez-faire economic system inherent in our constitution makes this country special. People like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan offer a more simplified understanding of American Exceptionalism. In their mind, Americans are exceptional because, deep within our sinew we all have this near supernatural ability to create wealth out of thin air. When discussing his own wealth, Mitt had this to say:

Both my dad and [wife] Ann’s dad did quite well in their lives. But when they came to the end of their lives and passed along the inheritance to Ann and me, we both decided to give it all away. So I have inherited nothing. Everything that Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way.

Never mind that, like Poppa Doc, Mitt “went to Cranbrook and that’s a private school” – that his parents paid for. They also paid for college, grad school and “loaned” him the money for his first house. His father also gifted him stock – which he sold off to support himself and his wife while they were in college. After making a name for himself at Bain & Co, Mitt was offered the job of heading up the newly formed Bain Capital. Mitt likes to talk about how, leaving the former for the latter represented a huge career risk. In real life, Mitt worked out a deal with Bain founder Bill Bain, where, if Bain Capital failed, he could get his old job back including all of the raises and promotions he could have expected had he never left his original position. Basically… even if he failed at Bain Capital… it could still have been considered a success. SAY what you will about ole Williard, but the guy sure knows how to negotiate a sweetheart deal for himself. We have no idea who Romney would be, and what his “success” would look like, had he not had these various safety nets perpetually in place to prevent any real failure.

maxresdefault

In effect – Mitt Romney has never taken a risk in his life. Still, he favors extensive tax cuts for the rich, and major cuts to what he calls “entitlements” — handouts given to the lazy, shiftless folk who aren’t motivated enough to earn their wealth like he did. In truth – these entitlements are programs like Unemployment (which one pays into… by working) Social Security (which one pays into… by working) and Medicare (which one pays into… by working). These ‘entitlements’ represent a social safety net that our country has created to insure that the middle class stays strong and doesn’t slip into poverty during times of nation-wide economic hardship (like the recession of the past few years) and during times of unexpected sickness – when medical bills can wipe out an entire life’s savings. They represent the sort of safety net regular folk need when they aren’t born the children of former-ceo-governor-presidential candidates.

But none of this matters to Mitt. In Mitt’s mind, Mitt is an exceptional American, a self-made man. In Mitt’s mind, everyone is capable of having the same sort of success he’s had because we’re all exceptional Americans. The only thing that separates the hims from the us’s is motivation … or something. I say “or something” because, in truth, I don’t really know what Mitt Romney believes to be the difference between America’s rich and poor. What I do know is this: At this point in America’s history, wealth is neither created, nor destroyed… only transferred.

Yesterday, Mother Jones ran a “secret” recording of Mitt giving a speech to a select few uber-rich, potential campaign donors. In it he said the following:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” All right — there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.

Mitt goes on to say that it is his job to get the 5 percent or so in the middle — the independents who believed in Obama, but now believe he’s “in over his head.” Make no mistake about what this video represents. For Mitt Romney, and by extension, the for the party that nominated him as their candidate for our nation’s highest office, this speech is a declaration of war. With this speech, Mitt Romney has declared war on the working class. The GOP’s spin doctors are already out in full force, presenting Romney’s comments as an example of the legitimate, honest ideological differences between their party and the incumbent party, but this video is much more than that.

Class has always been the undercurrent helping to drive much of the division in this country. The separation of the haves and have nots and the maintenance of that separation is what fueled our revolution, our civil war, the post slavery jim crow laws – and most recently the GOP’s strict adherence to supply-side economic policy despite the fact that we know it doesn’t work. This class war has always laid below the surface of our American political machine because to bring it to the forefront and declare it openly would be to challenge this idea of American Exceptionalism and in challenging American Exceptionalism, we’re challenging the American Dream. For the first time in recent political history, through a confluence of technology and social media – the battles lines of this class war have been outlined by a presidential nominee of one of our major political parties. The importance of this moment cannot be overstated.

Against the grain of dystopic claims. On the thoughts your actions entertained. And you have proved to be A real human being and a real hero Real human being and a real hero.

Still, the same way I can’t shake College’s A Real Hero from my ears, I can’t help but feel like there really is something to this American Exceptionalism stuff. Maybe it’s that I was raised by a grandmother who grew up in the segregated south, but still believed in America. Maybe it’s because my grandfather fought for a country that wouldn’t let him buy a house where he wanted when he came home. Maybe it’s because I can feel in my soul the reverberating cries of people who’ve believed in this country despite it never living up to the promises it’s offered us. I believe in American Exceptionalism. And though I can’t quite wrap my mind around  a definition of it that reconciles my understanding of the actual American Experience – I know it exists, and I know Mitt Romney isn’t an example of it.

November 5th ain’t ever that far away… till then… stay low and keep firing.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s