Well, here we are just a scant few months away from yet another federal election. The electorate, which is comprised of an embarrassing minority of Americans who even bother to vote, will choose the President of the United States, all members of the House of Representatives and a third of the U.S. Senate. The biggest winners of all will be media outlets who will be selling unprecedented billions of dollars of political ads. Talk about job creation! For this we can thank a bare majority of the Supreme Court for the Citizens United opinion, which legalized political propaganda campaigns on an unprecedented scale by faceless elites to promote their self-serving agendas. Those agendas will be molded into federal law by battalions of bought-and-paid-for politicians posing as our leaders who will be elected or reelected to office, most of whom will be incumbents. This is the case despite an all time low public approval rate of Congress which stands at 17%. The other primary beneficiaries will be well heeled special interests who will unleash their armies of lobbyists on our political leaders. Think the Koch Brothers, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and other billionaires seeking special favors. Oh, and the losers…the working poor, the ever shrinking middle class of America and those under 30 who are poised to reap the catastrophic consequences of credit card government that lie just ahead.
Too harsh? If you haven’t done so already, take a look at the 60 Minutes Jack Abramoff interview that originally aired on CBS in 2011 and was rebroadcast in July of 2012. Jack, fresh from three plus years in federal prison on corruption charges and now protected by double jeopardy, freely told the program that he controlled some 100 Congressional Offices and their staffs with favors such as a million dollars a year in sporting event and concert tickets and the standing lure of a career in his firm as a six figure plus lobbyist for congressional staffers that played ball for his clients. One of these congressional offices was that of powerful Ohio Republican Congressman Jack Ney, who was one of the very few office holders prosecuted and sent to prison for corruption. And since political corruption is an equal opportunity vice, just about every former Democratic Illinois Governor in memory seems to wind up behind bars for selling out their office. That said, I wonder who else on Abramoff’s Top 100 was able to escape prosecution to continue the lucrative practice of doing the bidding of their corporate sponsors. And so you ask, what is your point? Just that this is one of the hundreds or even thousands of dirty little secrets of so-called American Exceptionalism that the shills of the power elites trumpet repeatedly from every forum, from cable news shows to the internet, while conveniently ignoring reality. And if you dare to differ with them, you are labeled unpatriotic, un-American…Un, you name it. Well, if that be the case, please add Captain Equity’s name to the Un list. (Most who chronically disagree with me already have).
With that preamble out of the way, I hasten to add that there is indeed much substance to the concept of American Exceptionalism. Compared with much of the rest of the world, we have indeed achieved a great deal of which to be proud since our founding in the late Eighteenth Century. However, the moral authority, ingenuity and collective sacrifice that made the United States a unique entity for good in the history of the world is increasingly being put at risk by a new “business as usual” model of greed, corruption, arrogance and callousness that in past decades has been reserved for the Soviet Union, Maoist China and the Axis powers of World War Two. Today, it is the power elites in Syria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and yes, parts of post-Maoist China and post-Stalinist Russia that exercises power over the many for the narrow interests of the few.
Where to start? How about a 15 trillion dollar debt that will never be paid off? All it will take is a dramatic increase in interest rates, a bout of hyperinflation circa the late 1970s or both to trigger default. So what do our leaders do? More tax cuts, more spending programs and more denial.
Another dirty little secret pits basic morality and protection of the defenseless against power, money and position. The latest incarnation features those in power at Penn State University who looked the other way while Jerry Sandusky molested troubled boys at will at the Penn State football complex for at least 14 years. And while this story has captured the headlines this past summer, the ongoing saga of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy to protect pedophile priests is exponentially more stunning. For many Catholics and many more non-Catholics, the Church has irrevocably squandered its moral authority. I really don’t need to hear about the infinite ways my soul will be consigned to hell from these folks. To make matters worse, it has been going on since I was old enough to know how to spell Pope. The only saving grace for American Exceptionalism is that this seems to be a world-wide phenomenon, but that doesn’t excuse the American Catholic hierarchy from purposefully looking the other way.
Where to start? How about a 15 trillion dollar debt that will never be paid off?
Then there is the voter suppression movement, which is defined as the solution to a problem that simply does not exist. This may come as a shock, but there are poor and elderly citizens throughout America that do not possess a government issued photo ID card. The right wing architects of voter suppression know this. They also know that there is no evidence of any widespread or even random voter fraud, but they don’t care as long as the outcome of close elections can be controlled by selective disenfranchisement. Think poll taxes, unevenly applied literacy tests, etc. In a word, it is a shameless tactic of the political right that originally prompted Civil Rights era measures such as the Voting Rights Act. Do we really need to go back to the bad old days of the 50’s and 60’s? Some of yesterday’s Dixiecrats now posing as flag waving Republicans apparently think so.
The next dirty little secret involves the Founding Fathers of America and it is not because ownership of other human beings was a basic non-issue back in the late Eighteenth Century. We all know that the wisdom of the Founding Fathers is an enduring tenet of American Exceptionalism. I acknowledge that their admiration is generally well placed. Nonetheless, it is uncontroverted that the architects of America adopted the fundamental precept of separation of church and state to avoid replication of centuries of the abuse of power experienced in Europe. Notwithstanding every public display of emotion by our U.S. flag lapel pin wearing elected officials, the dirty little secret is that exactly the opposite is playing out here in Mississippi and across America regarding the issue of abortion on which reasonable persons can and do disagree. Our very own Governor and his nearly all male Republican fellow zealots (and I do use “fellow” in the most male sense of the term) have spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer compensated time to craft an intricate and technical state statute to end abortion in Mississippi. Never mind the settled constitutional right of privacy guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. The predicate for the law specifically designed to shutter Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic is the divinely inspired fact that only the governor and his self appointed male Illuminate know just what is best for women despite never having faced the very personal, heart rending, life altering dilemma of how to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy. To them, every fetus is precious and sacred, until of course it is born. At that point mother and child are totally on their own thanks to the GOP caucus’s opposition to Medicaid, et al. The good news is that as long as you acknowledge that the governor and friends are truly superior beings tasked by God to micromanage every aspect of a woman’s personal life, our liberty is guaranteed and American Exceptionalism is enhanced. Gosh, I never thought I would miss Haley this much.
But the dirty little secrets of 21st Century America are indeed equal opportunity in nature. Take college students for instance. In the old days, students graduated from college in four years. Today, for those who graduate at all it now takes five, six or even seven years to do it all financed by student loans that not only pay for tuition, but for an off campus apartment with a pool, and $5 cups of Starbucks coffee as well. Fortunately, mediocre students with affluent parents can always move back in with them to delay real life for an indeterminate period of time. Those not so fortunate may or may not even graduate high school. For them the prospects are even dimmer. In an affluent country of 300 million plus people, it is a disgrace that 46.4 million are SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program aka Food Stamp) recipients. Many of these people are the working poor. Many others don’t own an alarm clock and prefer the alternative of drinking beer mid-morning to getting a job. Even as the young and irresponsible mature, they discover that their lack of education and skills and poor decision making has consigned them to a life of poverty and dependence as life’s doors close on them. This is in large part due to the fact that single mothers, many of them teens, are giving birth to an increasing number of out of wedlock children. Here are some troubling statistics that go a long way to helping understanding the reality of poverty in America. In the United States 41% of all births today are to single mothers. This number rises to 71% for African Americans. Mississippi leads the U.S. in births to single mothers at 59%. Teenagers from even the best two parent families (think Barack and Michelle Obama) can be a handful thanks to hormones, peer pressure and immaturity. What are the chances for those born into a world of perpetual irresponsibility? It eventually manifests into alcoholism, drugs, violence, crime, underemployment, unemployment and even homelessness. There is nothing exceptional about this.
Now for the ultimate dirty little secret, “I have only scratched the surface.”
So, how can we restore and ensure the continuity of true American Exceptionalism? It is simple to state and much more difficult to realize. In essence, we all need to strive continually to overcome the downside of human nature and to build character and integrity in our institutions and ourselves. Simple terms like honesty, truth, sacrifice, concern for others and tolerance come to mind. We all must battle the very real temptations of selfishness, hatred, arrogance and hypocrisy. My favorite aphorism on this subject goes back to my Torts Professor at Ole Miss Law School, Robert Khayat, who told me long ago. “True Ethical Conduct Is Defined As What You Do When Nobody Is Looking.” Do that and American Exceptionalism will take care of itself.