Political Fix (15 June, 2017)

American Exceptionalism

Growing up, learning about our country’s history, I remember many ways America was exceptional. Our exceptionalism started in earnest with World War II when we churned out an entire ship in 4 days and 15 hours at the Richmond ship yard. Then the United States spearheaded the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe and lead the democratization of Japan. All the world looked at us for leadership. American-made products that were reliable, our Democracy was admired, and our press was respected.

American exceptionalism has taken a different road since the election of our new president. All the world is still looking at us but for different reasons.

The United States’ most recent display of exceptionalism was pulling out of the Pairs Climate Agreement. Now we can walk hand in hand with Syria’s Bashar al Assad and Nicaragua, two other countries known for their own brand of exceptionalism.

On his own advise, President Donald Trump left the Paris agreement because he said the United States wasn’t getting a fair deal, even though the agreed upon goals were completely voluntary and set by the countries themselves.

President Trump stated during his speech in the Rose Garden, “I was elected to represent the voters of Pittsburg, not Paris.” But before the president could finish, the Mayor of Pittsburg reaffirmed his city’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

President Barak Obama signed the agreement along with every other country except the two listed above in 2015. The document was considered one of the hardest fought and most popular global agreements in recent history

The purpose of the pact is to save the planet.

Another aspect of American exceptionalism is our health care system. We are the only developed country in the world that doesn’t consider access to a doctor a human right. There has been a shift in attitudes in the last few years, but the majority of those in congress believe Americans should have to pay if they need medical care.

We got close to universal health coverage similar to the Europeans with Obamacare, but not quite for those who buy individual plans. Granted that Obamacare is heading towards bankruptcy, but the Republican healthcare plan, American Health Care Act, goes in the opposite direction and leaves millions without access to health care.

One consequence of American exceptionalism during World War II is that the United States created the biggest thing in the world – the American Military Complex. The United States spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined. If we transferred just 15% of what we spend on the military every American would have healthcare.

The United States prison system has become part of this reverse exceptionalism. The United States has less than 4.4% of the world’s population but almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation. If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.

San Marino, on the other hand, the smallest country in the world, has one prisoner.

We also have exceptional gun ownership. In the United States here are 112 guns per 100 people. That doesn’t mean that every person owns a gun, it just means that gun owners like to own a lot of guns. This in contrast to England where there are 6.6 guns owned per 100 people and 4 per 100 in the Netherlands.

Gun ownership leads to another exceptional ranking for the United States. There are roughly 32,000 gun deaths per year in the United States versus 50 or 60 per year in England.

On a positive note, the most important aspect of American exceptionalism is our Democracy.

Our democracy will survive this presidency.

In 2020 we can impose more sanctions so the Russians stay out of our elections. We can vote in a president who will put us back into the Paris Climate Agreement. We can vote for a congress that will improve on Obamacare instead of repealing it. We can pass laws that stop jailing people for writing bad checks or taking drugs.

And once Americans cotton on to the fact that the United States has been at war since 2003 we might contemplate spending those resources on us. We are not at war because “freedom isn’t free.” We are at war to keep our military industrial complex humming. When Americans ban making money on war, then we can “Make America Great again.”

Maybe we are just too young to be using the term American Exceptionalism. The Roman Empire lasted for 2000 years and the United States has only breached its third century. Maybe, if the planet is still alive, when America reaches its first millennial we can own Exceptionalism.

Is being conservative or liberal in our genes?

Aristotle once described man as a political animal, and now according to research linking genes with liberal or conservative leanings, he was partially correct.

Actually the research has been going on for a long time, but took one scientist couple 20 years because they wanted to trace the path of political affinity from childhood to adult. Their goal was to determine if being conservative or liberal was due to one’s environment or genes.

Using the results from following 100 toddlers to adulthood, the couple found a clear set of childhood traits that accurately predicted who would be conservative or liberal as adults. The same results occurred when another team of psychologists studied twins who had been separated from birth. The experiments suggested that the roots of our political orientation emerge as early as four years old. This would leave one to assume that we are born with our political inclinations.

In another study, researchers at University College London recruited 90 students and had each of them rate him or herself on a five-point political spectrum. Their choices could range from “very conservative” to “very liberal.” Then neuroscientist Geraint Rees used magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to scan each of their brains.

According to The Atlantic, “The results were stunning. From the MRIs, the scientists were able to accurately predict which of those individuals was more likely to be a liberal or a conservative. The more conservative students had a larger right amygdala; greater liberalism, on the other hand, was associated with a larger anterior cingulate.”

The Atlantic continued “Someone who only had the measurements of these two brain regions would be able to correctly guess whether an individual was “conservative” or “very liberal” about 72% of the time. Aside from the right amygdala and the anterior cingulate, no other regions showed a significant and independent correlation with political orientation.”

Many high school debate clubs battled over the concept of Nature vs. Nurture when explaining human behavior. Political orientation and social values have usually been seen as the result of Nurture or rooted in our upbringing.

But as scientists look into fields like genetics and primatology they are coming to the collusion that, “Our political orientations are deeply ingrained natural dispositions, molded within each of us by powerful evolutionary forces. Indeed, these personality traits, and the left-right spectra that arise from them, are intimately connected to the natural history of our species.”

These studies almost make me want to forgive all those Republicans who don’t believe in evolution or who think that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Ironically for them, it’s probably our evolutionary process that made them so conservative.

Genetics makes it easier to understand someone like Vice President Mike Pence. He is an unapologetic evangelical conservative who sees the last 40 years of progress on abortion, gay rights, civil rights, criminal justice reform, and race relations as a disaster for the country.

And let’s not forget Women’s Rights. Mr. Pence follows the Billy Graham rule, formulated in 1948 by the evangelical preacher to keep his team in line while traveling around the country. Mr. Pence has said that he will never eat alone with a woman other than his wife and wouldn’t attend any event where alcohol was being served unless his wife was with him.

So if Mr. Pence wants to party like its 1959 we really can’t judge him. Because as Lady Gaga said it – Baby he was born that way.

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