I have often wondered at the pastlessness of Americans. We tend to think of ourselves and our nation as ever-new and forward thinking and we are shocked when others point to the trail of wreckage that so often follows in our wake.
"Get over it. That was yesterday," we say as we forgive ourselves and forget.
We cannot imagine a people or a nation that harbors memories or worse, grudges.
All great endeavors and nations, even Empires like our's, have mixed histories. On the whole, I believe that our nation has been a force for good in the world, but to ignore and forget our faults and happily proclaim our perpetual innocence is a form of delusion. We are not "exceptional" we are human and that implies both good and evil.
Here is an essay that examines Christopher Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism" and asks some pretty tough questions.
Every American has been immersed since birth in the propagandistic reassurance that he or she is the most superior citizen on earth, simply by virtue of coming of age in this model capitalist democracy, the endpoint, in our eyes, of national and human evolution. This propaganda has produced a kind of nationalism so pervasive and misguided that most Americans wouldn’t even know to call it nationalism—it is, for us, simply the proper order of things. So, as is the case with other undiagnosed neurotic disorders, we lie to ourselves to sustain it, whether about the poverty of millions of our stateside neighbors, or the historic crimes committed against Native Americans and black Americans at home, or the casual mayhem we’ve visited upon Iraqis, Afghans, and everyone else abroad.
What’s more, that delusion ensures we’ll never have to consider what our history has to do with our selves—that we’ll remain in the condition of chronic pastlessness that was, for Lasch, the most troubling and foundational indicator of our national narcissism. When I moved abroad seven years ago, it wasn’t some new, bright beginning; instead, my relationship to the world felt suffused with a kind of melancholic amnesia, as if I should have known and recognized and understood the place, as if I, or someone like me, had been there before. Americans, expat and homebound alike, never really know how to make these connections between our imperial selves and the carelessly tended ruins kicked up in their wake. It’s what makes us, as they say, special.
Read the entire essay here.