We’re Not Exceptional

American exceptionalism is a lie. It has always been a lie. America has always had a talent for selling lies… to Americans. Particularly white Americans.

America sold to its white people a long list of lies claiming that other people are lesser and that it’s okay to hurt and exploit them. Lies like this enabled genocide and imperialism against Native Americans, and slavery, and the oppression of women and queer people, and war after war after war.

America is so good at telling lies we have people who still believe this garbage. Most shrug and mumble about being “not really racist” while they go right on with their bigotry. We’ve still got many, many people who believe absurd lies about climate change not really happening, and/or not really being driven by human activity.

We’ve had a lie, basically forever, that our democracy is unassailable. Many of our leaders and our teachers (hi, I’m one) have always said, “It can happen here,” but relatively few people have really believed that. They prefer the lie.

Americans widely buy into false equivalencies and “both sides” lies, too. As long as you can find one trash person on each side of a dispute or a divide, you can shrug and blow the whole thing off, or just pick the side you like regardless of whichever one is really doing the most harm. They’re both bad anyway, right?

That’s not the point. The lesser evil is still less evil. But going with “less evil” is work.

With all the comforting lies so many Americans already believe, they’ve gotten used to shopping around for whatever lies they prefer. Again, lies enabling bigotry and misogyny are real popular. Lies enabling abuse. Lies allowing us to look the other way from injustice.

Donald Trump has never offered anything but lies.

People have bought those lies because they wanted what it enabled. To be honest, I feel like the premise that anyone was ever fooled by those lies at all is just another polite fiction. I think pretty much everybody knew, including his supporters. They wanted the cruelty and bigotry and inflated pride of empty slogans.

Regardless, he sold lies, and millions of people bought.

Those lies got us all the way from a ban on people coming to this country purely because of their religion—which, of course, involved other lies—to a four-year litany of needless cruelty and bigotry and theft and betrayals and abuses of power and catastrophic indifference to a raging pandemic. Those lies got us a mob of extremists attacking the Capitol at Trump’s open encouragement in some weird belief their efforts would somehow overturn the election and keep him in office.

We’re already seeing lies about that, too. “No, no, it was really Antifa” is coming out of right-wing pundits and actual elected Republicans with straight faces. Stop and imagine that, by the way: imagine you went all the way to DC with your Trump swag and/or your guns, you broke into the Capitol to demand Trump stay in power… and your guy’s guys turn around and say you were really with the other side and you did it to make Trump look bad.

Some people are gonna buy that lie, because it comforts them. Watch.

The truth is democracy is fragile, and American democracy is no different. Always has been and always will be. The truth is America dresses up a lot of horrible garbage and abuse as being right and good, mostly to enable more horrible garbage and abuse. The truth is we’d all be better off and happier if we finally confronted those lies and tried to do better.

Being a writer has taught me just how much work people will put into hearing only what they want to hear and ignoring all but the most explicit messages, so I’ll add all this as simply and clearly as I can: The truth is Donald Trump lost that election in exactly the numbers we have seen since it happened. The truth is Donald Trump has done us no good as a president. No good at all. And all of this harm is on him and his enablers. The truth is what he and his supporters did yesterday was a crime, it was terrorism, and yes, it was an attack on our democracy. Nothing about it was okay.


Presumably, anyone who reads my stuff and finds this piece appreciates fiction and hero stories. Such stories are often simple, while reality is messy and complicated, but I can tell you this much: Donald Trump and his enablers are the bad guys, and they were all along.


I’m turning off comments on this one, because I know someone’s inevitably gonna want to jump in with a bunch more lies and I don’t feel like having to continually check back to delete them.