Thursday, September 12, 2013

American Exceptionalism

Vladimir Putin speaks to the American people about Syria. Here's his concluding paragraph:
And I would rather disagree with a case he [Obama] made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.
Some comments on American exceptionalism. 
  1. John McCain took exception to that point, calling it "an insult to the intelligence of every American."
  2. Another way to express American exceptionalism is to say that "The United States is the greatest country in the world."  The fact that most Americans would unthinkingly agree to this statement speaks volumes about American culture.
  3. Based on Putin's choice of words, Putin claims that Obama was encouraging Americans to believe that we're exceptional.  If Putin understood American culture, he would know that Americans already buy into American exceptionalism, by and large.  In other words, Obama was echoing, not injecting, that American sentiment.
  4. Having completed graduate school with a number of people from foreign countries, I have encountered pushback on American exceptionalism before.  To a German, for example, the ideal that you are exceptional because you're American is strange and off-putting.  It is likely that Russians feel the same way.  Nevertheless, American exceptionalism is part of American culture.
  5. On the other hand, if Putin really understands American culture, his comment about exceptionalism is a deliberate barb designed to insult Americans.  Perhaps, this is most likely.  That brings us full circle to McCain's comment.  I have to disagree that Putin's words insult American intelligence.  Putin's column is an insult to American culture, not to American intelligence.  Either way, it is an insult.
I wonder how diplomacy will evolve if we're already at the stage where leaders of other countries are insulting our culture.  Regardless, I think both sides need to take a break to (re)read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.  We desperately need both sides to have some real insight into what the other side is thinking.


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