North American Exceptionalism



Critical commentary on the new ideology of the US Democratic Party.

Heather Cox Richardson is a historian who maintains a newsletter very interesting, with daily analyzes of what in his view marks the US in political, ideological and economic terms and its interaction with the 'rest of the world'. In my view, in the midst of the crisis in which Americans are submerged, the historian is situated, in terms of elective affinities, in a clear, often explicit alignment, with the world view of the members of the 'center' of the democratic party, she and they are thoroughly convinced of the almost godlike power of America's founding myths, which imaginarily map the endangered 'American exceptionalism'.

Your "Letters from an American” can be read as combat texts, cleverly crafted, in which the reiterated recourse to founding myths in practice serves two purposes. On the one hand, to criticize the republican party's vision of the world, the monstrosity that asserted itself since the end, still in the 19th century, of the libertarian effects resulting from the North's victory in the Civil War. Acrid irony of history, Lincoln's party was transmuted into an extremist political organization in which contemporary slaveholders predominated.

On the other hand, in his constant criticism of republicans, Richardson outlines a historical dynamic that borders on the idyllic, an idealized vision of the US trajectory as a beacon of revolutionary freedom conquered for the benefit of Americans and humanity, almost a theodicy. The state born from the masterpiece of the Founding Fathers would, in the historian's view, be reaffirmed generation after generation against all its falsifications, particularly incarnated in the XNUMXth century by the slaveholding South and, today, by Republicans who betrayed Lincoln.

These are those who oppose the free development of the revolutionary form of society proposed by the Founding Fathers of the republic – that it was a slave trade in no way detracts from the work of the authors of the Declaration of Independence… -; these are the ones that divide the population into hierarchical segments of class, ethnic groups and many other minority sectors. These are the ones who oppose liberation feminism.

Faced with this risk of degenerate institutional regression, Heather Cox Richardson invokes greater value, the cement that holds everything together,'and pluribus unum', the sacred union of the different, unequal and opposite. Some of them incorporated into the political game of a Tocqueville-style democracy, some others gradually achieved the right to 'universal suffrage', while others, until the 60s, experienced the denial of that same right, today clearly in danger given the republican maneuvers that seek to limit as much as possible the turnout to the polls of the popular sectors.

The critical reading ofLetters from an American” as symptoms of the great crisis that the USA is experiencing today allows to illuminate a displacement of the axis of the “New Jerusalem”. Even if involuntarily, the letters point to another long period of general US crisis, in effect since at least the 'Reaganian revolution'. In other words, the history of disasters that were seen as the infinite progress of the imperial republic takes its toll. State, society, populations and, in some cases, even territories, each in a certain way, each forming part of the larger process, all of them submitted more and more to conflicts that, in the last instance, are of class.

All operating immediately, all threatening explosive mergers, all inscribed in the tense day-to-day life of an increasingly antagonistic society. The great threat to the big established interests arises from the increasingly frequent mini-explosions, symptoms of something bigger brewing, signs of the insurmountable laceration of the mystical body of the imperial republic. Tragedy 'in fieri' at the domestic level, apparently irremediable.

On the external plane, I know that I am simplifying as much as possible, another galloping threat is looming, which is gaining strength in the midst of the hardships unleashed by the planetary crisis of neoliberalism: the emergence of a hegemon potential, not so new... The turnaround of the Middle Kingdom, after all the dust shaken since the creation of the republic led by Sun Yat Sen until the conclusion of the revolutionary cycle with the burial of Maoism and the conformation of the current Chinese sphinx, unavoidable process, pointing to another dimension of a persistent American decadence.

The configuration of this complex, internal-external dynamic tends to be catastrophic. It is not a recent phenomenon, we all know, despite the fuss that everything is due to Trump. What is essentially an internal polarization – reflected on the phenomenal surface by the attempt to overcome, via understandings from above, the dualism that opposes a mythical “us”, the democrat, to a mystified them, the republican –, constitutes the centrality of the current moment of the cycle that is ruin, and which has already extended for at least 50 years of contemporary US history. In the external dimension, the dreams of the end of history having been frustrated, what was left was the nightmare of an endless reality. The most recent Chinese rise, initiated by Deng Xiaoping, also dates back to the 70s.

The apparent progress that is a real storm has been taking shape since at least the last third of the last century. In this time that has already counted in decades, the regressive movement, critical of an idealized New Deal, has in Reagan and other republican presidents, including Trump as its maximum expression so far, the great highlights. But as every coin has two sides and a particular dialectic, it is important not to forget in this defeat the strategic role played by Clinton with his clumsy elaboration of the 'southern strategy', nor that of Obama with his internal ambiguities and with the systematic and ruthless use of force military in the Middle East, plus its 'Asian twist', essentially an encirclement of China. Supporting actors in tragedy, the Democrats? No. Equally leading actors. In this play there are only stars, no exceptions to the stellar rule of those who exercise the power of the imperial state as the coldest of cold monsters.

Faced with this picture whose structural depth must obviously be denied, Biden tries to resurrect the partisanly Democratic version of the myth that both Democrats and Republicans, each side appropriating with opposing intentions, passionately defend. The acronym currently chosen by the Democratic government to mobilize 'enlightened' public opinion and to ally Democrats and independents in the legislature is 'Brazilian reality show', BBB. “Build Back Better".

On the external front, at least for the moment, the 'we're back' strategy is reduced to an accelerated reheating of the waters of the Cold War, a diplomacy effort on the edge of the abyss that will hardly have the power to relaunch the confidence of the Atlanticists in the alliance weakened by Trump. Short-term spectacle, the one proclaimed to be back? It is not known. Prudence suggests that we wait to see if this effort to re-elaborate an old-new (new?) discourse aimed at NATO, something endowed with effective power of persuasion, will survive. That is to say, the question is to survive not only as a mobilizing rhetoric until 2025 arrives. Better then to await, without ominous haste or naive celebration, in the belief that reason is sober, for the results of next year's intermediate elections.

So far, the 'we're back' has been limited to bipolar speech ('honnit soit qui mal y fale'), an exercise that, despite its weakness on the rhetorical level and its inconsistencies on the practical level, will certainly trigger new tensions in the US and NATO's relationship with Russia and China. Its consequences, still nebulous in terms of “effective reality”, will extend in time-space, both in European and Asian space, as well as in the generational time that articulates the short, medium and long-term.

Given the manifest will of manifest destiny, the hubris of recovering the hegemonic power that underpins the “Bidenian” discourse in terms of foreign policy, and taking into account this rhetorical exercise that becomes dangerously belligerent, something immediately follows: the strengthening of dangerous trends, since Biden’s vision confirms China's and Russia's geostrategic and geoeconomic concerns regarding increased instability in their immediate circle of geopolitical projection and in other spheres that go much further afield.

It is risky to embark on a crusade to recreate the world when the planet is still immersed in a crisis that has lasted well over twenty years, warns EH Carr. Especially if the touchstone to turn back the worn spring of the clock of history – to do better what was already done by the symbolic fathers, Roosevelt very especially – is seen with binoculars whose lenses are clouded by the very poor dust of the democracy x authoritarianism bipolarity.

Faced with the internal political-ideological dynamics of the USA, inscribed in a polarization that will be increasingly accentuated in the coming years, and challenged by the tensions, conflicts, localized wars, specific disputes and permanent competition that structure the conflicting face of the international system, all generated in largely due to the planetary exhaustion of neoliberalism, Biden bets on what appears to be something beyond improbable: the ability of a certain BBB neo-Keynesianism to back up the global healing prescription, that is, the ability of the USA to obtain almost complete dilution, via 'new economic policy', of the crisis that comes from 2007/2008, a crisis that continues and is boosted, since almost two years ago, by the pandemic.

If dream and reality improbably converge, if Biden's geopolitical and geoeconomic proposal succeeds spectacularly, then, in principle, the strengthening of democracies ontologically opposed to all authoritarianisms will be ensured, a process which would result,'inter alia', the renewal of the term of validity of the capitalist mode of production in the 21st century way, a profound structure critically weakened by the ostensible domination of unproductive capital and the plundering of natural resources.

Those in the 'establishment' who have the democratic party as their faithful representative in congress think they are getting out, with Biden, the BBB and the 'we are back to the leadership of the democratic world', from both labyrinths, the internal and the global, prisons at which US would have been led by Trump, the point outside the line. They fail to realize that different minotaurs await them in each of them. Internally, a one-way process that multiplies low intensity conflicts with others of increasing intensity, conflicts that diversify their apparent forms, conflicts that today cross all arenas, from political to social, from cultural to ideological, from ethnic to gender, of etc. to etc.

The result of what is being spiced up in this somewhat Shakespearean cauldron can only be counted electorally at the end of 2022, when the fragile position of the Democratic party in Congress and in the spheres of state legislatures and executives may even be eroded. In the sphere of the judiciary, the account is clearly unfavorable to Biden.

If we look at the external sphere, not so external, the antinomies all generated by the stalled globalization and by the actions of NATO and/or the USA as world gendarmes will remain in force. Destined to be mutually reinforcing, thereby multiplying boomerang effects for the US that seeks to fend off, to the extent of its current strength, threats to the declining hegemony. Do not forget: in the course of this process that began much earlier and that will continue long after Biden has left the executive branch, the day-to-day of international relations will be marked by the most important external challenge to imperial-republican power since the dissolution of the USSR .

If we think of the long-term record, the clash at once denied and affirmed, the dance between the poles disputing hegemony, that process, deaf or wide open, that sometimes discreetly evolves in the back of the stage, but that in general arrives to the foreground of the scene will accompany us, and to the USA: the rise of Beijing. Resistible? Irresistible?

Even more interesting times we will live until 2025…

* Tadeu Valadares is a retired ambassador.


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