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Wednesday, 01 July 2015 07:16

Proponents of American Exceptionalism Ignore Settler Colonialism, Slavery

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aaaaforjulyOn the Fourth of July, celebrate the potential of democracy while acknowledging that the US was founded as an exclusive club of white male voters. (Photo: Bart)

It is July 1, which means that so-called "Independence Day" is just around the corner. It is the season for proponents of "American exceptionalism" to trot out their self-serving, jingoistic rhetoric.

Sure enough, one of my first emails this morning was from an ad hoc group of conservatives promoting an #AmericaProud website and twitter hashtag. Their objective is to "celebrate American exceptionalism" throughout July.

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The email sounds a clarion call to rally around a mythical vision of the founding of the United States. It asserts,

While the progressive left is intent on growing government, eroding man’s natural dignity from God as anchored in the Declaration of Independence, and threatening prosperity and sovereignty, this coalition knows that millions of Americans remain committed to the foundations of American exceptionalism....

American Principles Project in Action, Americans for Limited Government, Concerned Women for America, ConservativeHQ, Eagle Forum, Hillsdale College, NumbersUSA, EAGnews, Tea Party Patriots, and The Heritage Foundation are the first members to join this new and growing coalition, representing millions of Americans.

The #AmericaProud coalition of conservative groups is spreading dangerous misinformation. For instance, Ed Feulner - founder of the Heritage Foundation, home to many conservative DC-pundit policy wonks - asserts in a Washington Times op-ed (which the #AmericaProud website links to):

"We the People." We've heard that phrase so often it's easy to overlook its significance. But as we mark our nation's birthday, we should take a moment to ask ourselves: What is the role of the people?

Our nation is unique because of its universal founding principles. At the heart of these principles is the belief that people are free by nature and possess inherent rights. The use each one of us makes of these rights will naturally be different, and the outcomes of those choices will naturally differ, too. But the choice remains ours.

Oh, really? Is that why slavery was permitted by the "founding fathers" and Black people were counted as only three-fifths of a person for the purpose of increasing white slave-holding representation in Congress? Is that why women were not permitted to vote until an amendment allowed them to do so in the 20th century? Is that why the Indigenous population in the US was hunted down in a genocidal seizure of land?

It is imperative to remember that the only people the "founding fathers" believed were "free by nature and possess[ed] inherent rights" were property-owning white males. It is only the flexibility allowed by the Constitution that has allowed the expansion of those rights to other groups. The Constitution itself certainly did not grant them.

However, conservatives such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia continually refer to the so-called "original intent" of the patriarchal "founding fathers," employing a slippery legal theory of supposed "strict constructionism."

In general, conservatives such as Feulner and Scalia claim that they support full rights for everyone as a "core principle" that makes the US "exceptional." In reality, they champion the notion - in a slightly veiled way - that the US is a nation founded as a country to be ruled by white Christian males. Upon that concept, the right wing has overlaid the factually incorrect claim that there is no separation of religion and government. The underlying assumption is that Christianity is the "official" faith of the US.

If you look at the vast global military presence of the United States today, one could argue that what really makes it exceptional at the moment is the reach of its empire. This includes the economic colonization of a good chunk of the world. That's not the kind of "exceptional" that one should gloat about.

As you watch the annual display of fireworks this weekend, remember this: The United States set a historical precedent in breaking away from the tradition of European monarchy and creating a government that was elected. However, the self-governance was based on a bigoted view of who constituted a "voter," a bloodstained colonial settler concept of expansion and the acceptance of slavery.

The promise of the United States is not in what it was; it is in what it potentially can be.

Not to be reposted without the permission of Truthout.