On November 14 I wrote about the attention Australia's Nick Adams was receiving from his speeches and writings about American exceptionalism. It's a complicated subject. President Obama has used the expression "American exceptionalism," but the exceptionalism to which Nick Adams is referring has a different twist. In my article I wondered about his suggestion of superiority of Americans over other peoples. A few days later I noticed that Adams added on his website, "Nick Adams in America," that he considers all people to be equal but not all cultures to be equal. And he added that "the English-speaking world is the greatest hope for mankind."
His website also announced a special relationship between Adams and the great state of Texas. (Texas Governor Rick Perry made Adams an honorary citizen on July 11, an honor I'm told that has been bestowed on two others in the conservative pundit business: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.) On Adams' website, Texas was described in the third person as "...the greatest embodiment of American exceptionalism." And it stated that, "Through his work, Nick has traveled extensively through his favorite state in his pick-up truck." One may wonder what it is about Texas that makes Adams consider it the greatest embodiment of American exceptionalism. Does it have more swagger? Are its people more religiously devout? Are they more patriotic than those in other states?
Are not Texans, Americans and other nationalities too diverse for the kind of generalizations Adams is making? If Americans or their leaders are offering the world exceptional wisdom and leadership, what happened with all of its bumbling in recent decades?
Regarding the comment by Adams that English-speaking people are the greatest hope for mankind, I share the view that English-speakers have contributed much to the world of ideas and literature, but why the bad manners? Why brag or even bother comparing the mental accomplishments of English speakers and non-English speakers? Why should we ignore the great literature coming out of non-English speaking countries? And why should non-English-speaking people today look to English-speakers such as Americans, the British and Australians with hope? If they are looking for improvements, why shouldn't they be looking to themselves with hope?
As for all cultures not being equal, Adams seems to be straining here toward correctness. The Declaration of Independence includes the statement "...that all men are created equal," but how does this fit with what he is referring to as American exceptionalism? Exceptional in what way? He isn't just talking about differences; he is suggesting some sort of superiority. If one labels any one individual or group as exceptional in the sense that Adams is using the word, he is automatically labellng others as less than equal. Are Texans really superior to the people of Ohio in any way?
What does talking about exceptionalism do for Adams? The answer: Adams is mining the lucrative rah-rah business. He is in the business of selling enthusiasm. His website calls out: "Hire Nick for your Corporate Event." He appeals to his audiences with flattery and strings of cliché: America's greatness, freedom, "You are the people who matter ... we the people ... It's time to ring the bell of freedom." Of course there has to be a threat, and he refers to "these dark times." Other industrially advanced, non-English speaking states where democracy, freedom and liberty flourish he describes as "moribund."
Nick is talking about the US leading the world to a better tomorrow. What he is contributing to instead are instances of feel-good such as experienced by someone who wrote to Amazon.com that after reading a recent book by Adams he wanted "to stand on a mountain with my hair blowing in the wind, gazing up to heaven like a superhero." This is fantasy and an attitude similar to that which inspired the nationalistic chants of USA, USA, USA that came from Adams' audience in Texas and Arkansas and that are viewed without admiration by those who find strut and puffery unattractive. Some of us were glad to see a reduction in this kind of nationalistic puffery and exuberance at the end of World War II.
If you are interested in the subject of American exceptionalism you could turn your attention away from Nick Adams and Google those two words. You will find articles by accomplished scholars, Seymour Lipset among them, who describe the subject historically and without the excesses that Adams uses in pursuing advantages in the lucrative rah-rah market.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.