Abuse, Authoritarianism, Barack Obama, Democracy, Fascism, Freedom, Freedom and Liberty, Ideologies, Law, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics

Tyranny and American Exceptionalism

“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Richard M. Nixon

“Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House.”

Bob Herbert

Americans have a tendency to conceive of their country as an exception to the rules, or to the laws of human nature, that govern other nations.  This notion is sometimes called the notion of  “American exceptionalism”.

Sometimes, it takes the form of believing Americans are destined to be a free people.  When we see the difficulty so many other peoples have realizing their freedom, it often confirms our notions that what is happening to them cannot happen to us.  We might fully support the Iranian people in their struggle for democratic elections, but our support for them is seldom qualified by the thought, “That could happen here.”

Put differently, we do not learn from others.  Very few Americans think Iran has anything to teach us about our own democracy.  After all, we are an exception to the rules that govern countries like Iran.

Sometimes the notion of American exceptionalism takes the form of believing our leaders can breach with impunity the checks and balances that have traditionally limited their power over us.

Richard Nixon seems to have expressed that opinion when he stated that if the President does it, it’s not illegal.   In any other country, unchecked power soon becomes tyranny.   But not — we think — in America.  In America, only the nut cases warn us against allowing our government to have unchecked powers.

President Obama has declared his intention to indefinitely imprison people without trial.

The notion that a free people can grant their government the power to imprison them indefinitely and without trial is absurd.   There is nothing in the long history of our species to suggest that is at all possible, let alone likely.   Any people who grant their government tyrannical powers will before too long enjoy a tyranny — says history.

“But we are different”,  says the American exceptionalist, “We can get away with it.  Yes, we can.”

8 thoughts on “Tyranny and American Exceptionalism”

  1. The U.S. of A. has a long tradition of being sure it is the best in everything and a notch above international laws and norms. I thank God it does not have a permanent president otherwise it would have become a world menace and tyrant a long time ago not unlike the Roman or Ottoman Empires or the British Raj in their own time. Not to mention France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.


  2. Sadly, sooner or later, since we keep passing up ready opportunities to learn the limits of this exceptionalism, we’re going to learn it — by which I mean experience the lesson whether we individually need it or not — the hard way. I’m not welcoming it. I’m not celebrating it. I’m just saying that history has never been kind to this kind of pridefulness.

    I thought Obama would help ease us off the ledge. I was mistaken. He is happily part of the problem.


  3. I’m afraid that Dale may be right. I had great expectations about Obama, but…It’s still early in his mandate and supertankers need lot of water to turn around; there may still be hope yet.


  4. I am pleased by many aspects of Obama’s presidency, but he still supports many tyrannical aspects of government. I don’t know if this is because of political necessity (the most charitable interpretation), but I intend to do everything I can to make tyranny politically impossible in the US.


  5. I’ve talked to people who believe that Obama was “brought up to speed” on issues of national security that we the people do not know about and will never have that information revealed.

    I don’t buy into such reasoning. I view Obama as someone who had very little in regards to a record to go on thus he was able to make broad reaching statements during the campaign which could not be checked. What we are seeing is another person taking upon the mantle of power that is increased by his predecessors. Obama is not going to give up what Bush and former Presidents have opened up to increase Executive power.

    The issue of American exceptionalism and the notion of destiny can be quickly refuted by an understanding of the history of this nation and that freedoms for many classes had to be fought for through violence or cultural disobedience. The women’s movement and the Civil Rights movement less than a century old serve as proof that freedom as we often define it today did not exist in this country for the majority of it’s history.

    When politicians use the freedom argument to excuse abuse of power we must hold them accountable. Whether or not the media, the supposed mainstay of the people to keep political leaders accountable, will live up to their task in this administration remains to be seen. We can already see the current administration backsliding on so called promises regarding homosexuals and the military, the promise to end federal raids on state legal marijuana clinics and the treatment of accused terrorists and prisoners of war.

    Part of the problem is that we give up to much to the Executive Branch and a single person. If the desire for so called change hit the Congress through voter action as much as it did the Executive this last election then we might witness some actual change.


  6. As far as I see it, there is some American exceptionalism, no matter what one can think. The fact that even leftists are now watching out Obama’s steps in search of the tyrant in him, shows it in my view.
    By the way, let’s give this man some time before condemning him. I too, like Paul, have still hope about him.


  7. As an outsider observer I think President Bush was becoming desperate in his handling of America’s war against anti American terrorism. He was retreating to tyrannical meassures as the means for survival. Did not he act like a loser? 😦


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