America’s New Sales Pitch

Americans tend to take US “exceptionalism” in all its various manifestations for granted.

Rarely do we step back to consider what, exactly, makes the country, its currency and its financial assets so damn “exceptional” in the first place.

When we do reflect, we resort instictually to a familiar set of go-to talking points. American capital markets are deep and liquid, the US economy’s dynamic and for all its flaws, the country’s cut-throat brand of capitalism promotes innovation while rewarding hard work and diligence. Yadda yadda yadda.

As far as rah-rah narratives go, there’s a lot of truth to that one. But we’d be remiss to forget that the foundation for it all is the rule of law. And a commitment to representative government. And relative political stability. All of that’s in jeopardy currently.

The last — and quite possibly the next — US president fancies himself above the law and has made it abundantly clear that he intends to weaponize the levers of government, overtly and explicitly, against his political rivals. Note the emphasis (i.e., the italics). You can be a Trump supporter and still understand why this is perilous. Maybe the system’s de facto “rigged” against Trump maybe it isn’t, but officially it’s not. If he abandons the pretense and openly persecutes his opponents merely for opposing him, one pillar of US exceptionalism begins to crack.

On the representative government front, Republicans are engaged in a desperate attempt to leverage the system’s counter-majoritarian checks exclusively for their own gain, the will of the people be damned. The Senate’s hopelessly unrepresentative and the Supreme Court rules with some regularity against the balance of public opinion thanks to a conservative majority that’s corrupted by money (Thomas), radicalized (Alito) or unduly committed to what she imagines is a divine mandate (Coney Barrett). Stare decisis is dead, original intent’s all that matters when it supports the conservative opinion but completely irrelevant when it doesn’t and the conservative justices are plainly — nakedly — engaged in a regressive social engineering project aimed at restoring lost American “godliness,” as Alito suggested while being secretly recorded two weeks ago. In addition, the GOP has for nearly two decades sought to suppress the vote and disenfranchise minorities in what critics describe as institutionalized election fraud.

Relatedly, the vast majority of Americans don’t seem to understand that judicial review and the filibuster aren’t in the Constitution. As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote, “Rules that protect civil liberties and ensure a level playing field are necessary for democracy [but those] that give partisan minorities a leg up in winning elections and legislative battles are antithetical to it.” Those counter-majoritarian rules are all the GOP has left. Well, those rules and cynical appeals to Americans’ worst impulses and prejudices.

As for relative political stability, America’s becoming unstable, plain and simple. The odds of some sort of violence following the election in November are quite high. One side of the political divide no longer recognizes the existence of facts (in any sphere, political or otherwise). Conflict’s increasingly seen as a viable way to solve domestic disputes. And it’s no longer possible to extract a shared vision for the country from the melee because, frankly, one side hasn’t accepted demographic and cultural realities and so remains stuck in a timewarp, vulnerable to demagogues promising to roll back the clock to an era when the country was defined by what I’ve described as a Christian Anglo-Saxon caste system.

Every week brings more evidence to support the frightening contention that the foundation of American exceptionalism’s cracking. It’s not too late to fix it, but it feels like we’re relying more and more on other democracies faring worse (or autocracies backsliding into outright dictatorships) to retain our position as the best bet in a world full of risky wagers. I’m not sure this is a pitch to be proud of: “America: Because you could do worse!”


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15 thoughts on “America’s New Sales Pitch

    1. Well, I just published it a few minutes ago. And it’s Friday. And it’s almost summer. And next week’s a holiday. So… lack of engagement’s to be expected I’m afraid.

    2. People once claimed that equity markets were forward looking. They have not lived up to that description for years, but if you think that it is true, it’s telling us “no worries, all is well.”

      Gold, on the other hand, may be signaling something else.

  1. Given the amount of USD’s that our government, under Democratic or Republican leadership, is projected to print or borrow in the the next decade, we (the USA) better get our act together, fix what is broken and make sure we remain a quality borrower.
    If we can survive the next 4 years, I am optimistic that younger generations will put forward quality leadership.

  2. I think you finally found Trump’s new slogan, Make the World Worse So America Looks Great Again.
    I expect to see MWWSALGA hats flying off the shelves at a Walmart near you soon.

    All kidding aside, you have captured the depressing fall that the US has been on since the early 2000’s well. Truth stopped mattering altogether with W. and naked power grabs became acceptable if you were a member of the correct tribe with Gingrich.

    Watching this slow motion train wreck play out has me considering what it must have felt like to live as a sane and rational person in 1930’s Germany. I’ve begun reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” to try to gain that perspective but also because I want to be able to recognize at what point I, as someone who will not bow to whatever Reich Trump and his clan are pursuing, need to execute an escape plan.

    The world seems destined for another global conflict, apparently to refresh the tree of liberty or because humans can’t stand living in a world where every need can easily be met and thus must invent reasons to kill one another. The question is, will any unstable geniuses unleash nuclear weapons on the rest of us to satisfy their own ego? With Trump deteriorating cognitively as he is, and with him being so full of rage that not everyone loves him and that some very brave jurors decided that he isn’t above the law. I don’t have a lot of faith in the outcome.

  3. There are varying levels of concern amongst people (across the political spectrum). Folks who tend to look past Trump’s character flaws believe the policy will deliver better outcomes on inflation, the economy and immigration – even as some of the policy will be inflationary in theory. If the Dems had put forth someone in the next generation, I am pretty sure Trump would be 8-10 points behind anyone else (independents would lean hard toward a left-center candidate), and there would be better engagement in the aggregate among Dems.

    1. I think you’re underestimating the media’s ability (all news networks) to vilify any candidate besides Trump. Biden is basically the most effective policy president in my lifetime but yet, he’s somehow cognitively deficient? The guy ranting about sharks, Pelosi’s kids, and teleprompters is not cognitively deficient and is also going to make the best economy we’ve seen in decades better because the media over reports on inflation and underreports on the wage gap closing?

      I think you’re also discounting voter’s disengagement with both candidates this election along with everyone’s ability to basically dismiss anything Trump says as “Trump being Trump” instead of “holy sh*t how is this guy actually a candidate right now?”

    1. Maybe it’s time for a little more realism and humility. I propose converting MAGA to “MALLS” — Make America a Little Less Shitty.

  4. I would say that you are right, American exceptionalism is gone. It started with Regan and has continued through today. If Trump is reelected Democracy as we know it will be gone. The bigger issue is the current Supreme Court always sides with the powerful corporations. So if this continues the current top 50 families that rule things will turn to 20 families.

  5. American exceptionalism is the proverbial frog in rapidly heating water. It would seem we are being lulled into complacency by the long and variable lags of its demise (to borrow a de jour phrase), along with the dissociative insulation of short-term greed by the very rich, who should know better for f&k’s sake.

  6. It still amazes me that the US, a very rich country with a long history of reasonable democracy, can only come out with a Shaky Geriatric and an elderly Birdbrain Felon as presidential candidates. The mind boggles.

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