American Un-Exceptionalism

February 11, 2021

The bombshell 13-minute video that opened the trial against Donald Trump in the Senate was network quality, exactly the length of a commercial-free segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes. It was masterfully edited. Scenes were drawn from the dignified ceremony underway on January 6 in the Senate Chamber, then were spliced with footage taken of the rampage and bloodlust raging outside its doors.

The video was worth a million words, and was punctuated by simple text descriptions that advanced the narrative of that day, all tailored to 21st Century attention spans. The summation by Representative Jamie Raskin was impressive and emotionally authentic. “This cannot be our future,” he concluded.

The Democrats “won” the first day of this process when six Republicans broke ranks by agreeing that the House Impeachment allegations against Donald Trump were constitutional even though he had already left office. A few minds had been changed mostly due to the poor performance of Trump’s defense team, but that won’t much matter. Acquittal is all but guaranteed because Trump has been devoting his time to tampering with the jury by working the phones with Republicans who are frightened of him, and his violence-prone followers, or who are easily co-opted.

The result, so far, is that 44 Republicans still voted against having the trial on February 9, and, of these, 37 Republicans have been quoted as saying they are dead set against conviction, no matter what the evidence will be. If this holds, conviction (67 votes to convict) is impossible which may be why some prominent jurors were noticeably disrespectful during the proceedings. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Rick Scott rarely watched the presentation, their eyes glued to papers on their desks. A mask-less Rand Paul doodled. And one Senator, Josh Hawley, left his desk to sit in the viewer’s gallery so he could do some paperwork with his feet up on a railing.

This unwillingness to even weigh the merits of an issue or to countenance alternative viewpoints, much less proof, constitutes dereliction of duty and also reveals America’s most deep-seated flaw. These close-minded Senators are guilty of “willful ignorance”, a legal term that describes a situation when people intentionally turn their attention away from an ethical problem that is believed to be important. This is often a defense mounted by drug couriers who claim they never asked what the contents were and therefore had no intent to break the law by transporting them.

In this case, Republicans chose to remain willfully ignorant of the consequences and damage caused by their leader and his henchmen for four years. They never criticized him. They would have us believe that they never read his Tweets, attended his incendiary rallies, heard the dog whistles and flood of lies, observed him destroy civil service careers, circumvent committees, hire incompetents, or flout Congressional subpoenas. And I guess they never had the pleasure of meeting or digitally corresponding with any of Trump’s wackadoodle or extremist followers.

No, they knew nothing of that, and it’s not important now anyway, they would rationalize, because-he’s-out-the-door-completely isn’t he? Rather than dwell on the sordid past they helped construct, they’d rather move on to the important business of the state…business which they conduct, as usual, by averting their attention, and their eyes, away from anything deeply ethical.

Their behavior smacks of another offence, known across the British Commonwealth, as “compounding a felony”. This involves those who accept favors, or anything of value, in return for not prosecuting or hampering the prosecution of a felon.

By the way, paying attention has never been Washington’s strong suit. In fact, willful ignorance is the DNA of the nation’s entrenched political elite. Most have turned a blind eye for decades to issues such as America’s decline in morale, incomes, social cohesion, morality, and political unity. Instead, they have remained preoccupied with flag waving, tax cutting, deregulating, fundraising, or beating their rivals to a political pulp. Busy power-mongering internally, America has lost ground among its peers when it comes to providing decent living standards, levelling the playing field, or safeguarding the wellbeing of its citizens.

America’s willfully blind Senators and Representatives haven’t a clue about the fact that Germany cares for its children, new arrivals, and elderly better; Ireland has higher incomes; Canada has a bigger middle class; China catches up technologically; South Korea has the highest proportion of citizens with tertiary educations; Japanese lifespans are eight years longer; students in Australia, Northern Europe and Canada have higher science, math, and reading literacy scores; or that the other developed nations have superior infrastructure, public schools, and housing, not to mention universal health care with better outcomes at half the cost.

They don’t give a toss, as the Brits would say, about the fact that Denmark, for instance, easily handles paying minimum wages of US$16 an hour and can still sell Big Macs for US$1 apiece less than they sell for in the United States where no one can live decently on America’s paltry minimum wages. Or ask yourself, how many members of Congress know that the United States has the greatest income inequality among well-off nations, the most child poverty, and the highest incarceration, murder, and gun ownership rates per capita in the world?

For a country steeped and built on competition, America’s political leadership has been strangely unconcerned about being best in class or emulating those that are. That’s not what grabs their attention. And that’s why America is not a Gold Medalist when it comes to governance and why a trial into shocking malpractice by the last guy in high office grinds away in front of the world this week and will likely result in his acquittal. I hope I’m wrong.

You’d think the Trump embarrassment would be reason enough for them to pay attention, listen, and finally begin to notice how America’s status and standing slips as they stare at their desks or doodle or sit in the balcony.

I happen to be American as well as Canadian, and I believe that Americans deserve better. “American exceptionalism” no longer exists to me, in terms of superiority if it ever did, but the United States is certainly capable of matching the best, and, when necessary, lifting up the rest.

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