American exceptionalism is an article of faith in the US. A surefire applause line for a pandering politician is to take some fairly humdrum achievement and tack on the phrase “only in America”. Audiences seem to delight in thinking that achievements that are commonplace the world over are somehow only possible here because of the unique conditions in the US.
Just last week in a speech Mitt Romney said, “Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of a state where he once sold paint from the trunk of his car.”
Really? He thinks that it never happens in other countries that people achieve high public office despite humble beginnings?
Author E. L. Doctorow describes what it would take for the US to achieve the opposite state of ‘unexceptionalism’, which he defines as being “indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world.”
It looks like we made it easily.