More than half of the United States’ population thinks “God” has a special relationship with America. This belief in the nation’s exceptionalism provides a basis on which a majority of people can imagine that the United States is exempt from the consequences of its actions. Rules of nature, decorum, civil behavior, and good citizenship in the global community simply don’t apply to them/us. This brand of exceptionalism builds on the related concept of individual exceptionalism in which people imagine themselves independent of responsibilities or accountability to such annoyances as speed limits and safety laws, rules and regulations, or regimens of diet and exercise. The fantasy of unlimited personal wealth which currently dominates the national imaginary is the ultimate extension of individual exceptionalism — one is simply a law unto oneself in a system where money legitimates views and actions. And, finally, completing the list, we have human exceptionalism–the hubristic belief that our species is superior to all others, simply by accident of our having achieved a high-level capacity for technological transformation and exploitation of natural resources. Even as we (probably fatally) dis-balance the living systems of the earth, the sense that “we” occupy a place of superior intelligence prevails. Each of these forms of exceptionalism has major liabilities and consequences for the ways the political system in America works and the terms on which self-justification proceeds. Meanwhile, damage continues at a great pace.
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