With a new White House beset by critical challenges, for now my attention is more riveted on the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack and desecration. With more FBI details emerging about the planning and execution of the insurrection, how deep the roots might reach, and how audacious the Trumpian strategy to possibly impose martial law, the words “shocking,” “unprecedented,” and “complicity” aren’t enough.
The realization that things could have been so much worse doesn’t mean that next time they won’t be worse. I’m not thinking of another attack on the Capitol. For now I’m hopeful of a period of positivity and peace. But there are far more things that can go wrong that we don’t know about, than things we do know. History has never moved so fast, attention spans been so short, memories so inundated and selective. Instead of divining the next decade by what you might feel and want, or what you think is just and right, study history. Read about the cycles of governments, dynasties, and political parties. Nothing lasts forever, but your dreams will last longer if you don’t let your guard down. When the future arrives, you want to be able to recognize it.
How has America gotten into such trouble in every way conceivable? We ignore our astounding national debt, urban violence, race relations, women’s reproductive rights, free speech, gun rights, income inequality…the polarization is endless. What I’m trying to fathom is our general reluctance or inability to handle these complex problem. I have a clue: American exceptionalism. I find it one of the most dangerously misleading phrases in our culture Yes, our country does some things extremely well, better than the rest of the world, and Americans can be incredibly kind and generous. But our exceptionalism has become a broad brush for championing the good while ignoring the bad, a shield to hide behind when our country is criticized for its narcissism, indifference and ignorance. We rationalize that critical problems like climate change can’t be easily solved so why make the effort? "The technology will show up when it’s needed. My life is busy enough,” a friend of mine says.
We wallow in our exceptionalism, but we don’t back it up by tackling the tough stuff that requires sacrifice and stamina. Many of us don’t like “hard.” We definite “living in the moment” as something wonderful and In many ways the goal is admirable. Yet when I think about slogans with honest roots, I prefer “living for the future.” In the meantime, we are the world’s biggest back slappers. We love to congratulate ourselves, give out participant trophies, and exult in our pursuit of happiness. Like a lost tribe of dreamers, the path marked “most difficult” has little interest for us. I propose we observe a moratorium on the phrase “American exceptionalism.” If we’re going to embark on a positive future for all, how about “American wisdom.”
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.