Check out the website:  Look at the recent Political Notes and Len’s Letters on the website.  Len’s Letter #20 Nationalism and Homogeneity, Len’s Letter #26 Who Stinketh the Most, Len’s Letter #34 Skulduggery to Become President

July 4th 2021         Len’s Letter #42   America on July 4th


Norman Rockwell – Marmont Hill Golden Rule

How exceptional is the United States?

Below are some characteristics that lead some Americans to claim we are different from and superior to all other nations. Are we different?  Are we superior?  Let’s take a look.

Gaining Liberty and independence through revolution

The US is generally considered to have produced the first of the revolutions.  The American revolution of 1776, influenced at some level by Enlightenment ideas of liberty, progress, acceptance of others, constitutional government, limits on the influence of religion and a new vision of what a nation might be was followed by many more.

While the French Revolution that began in 1789 was not a war of independence, it created one of the contexts for the 19th century – a drive toward the extension of freedom and equality for European people.

The Haitian Revolution begun in 1791 extended those ideas of freedom and quality to former slaves.

The failed Irish Revolution of 1798, like most of the 19th century revolutions was also moved by the new 19th concept of nationalism.

The Serbian Revolution of 1804 against the Ottoman Empire continued until 1835, ending with an independent Serbia that was a monarchy, but also with the end of feudalism and serfdom.

The Latin American wars of independence from Spain began in 1808, led by wealthy and powerful ethnic Spaniards for whom Latin American was home.  These wars of independence created the countries we now know in Latin America

The War of Independence of Brazil from Portugal began in 1822 against a nation that, itself, had undergone a kind of liberal revolution.

The Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire began in 1821. The Greeks attracted the support of romantic enthusiasts for a modern Greece, the support of European nations and, eventually in 1832, an international treaty setting the boundaries for an independent Greece.

Further revolutions

Throughout the 19th century additional revolutions continued to occur. The  context continued to be Enlightenment thought as expressed by the French and American Revolution. Socialist ideas were developing in the 19th century emphasizing economic rather than political equality.  Those ideas and the revolutions of the 20th century – for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949 – created the context for the 20th century.  One consequence of the development of a vision of nationalism based on race was fascism. The Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 was as important for the 20th century as the Russian and Chinese revolutions.

Constitutional government

In 1791, in response to agitation for reforms, the Polish-Lithuanian dual monarchy’s legislature, the Great Sejm, adopted a constitution moderating some of the worst abuses of serfdom.  The constitution lasted a year and a half and was ended under pressure from neighboring countries.

Just as the American revolution was the first national revolution for independence, the United States Constitution, ratified in 1798, is conventionally considered the first written constitution for national government except, perhaps, for the American Articles of Confederation which preceded it.  The very idea of setting written rules for future governments was revolutionary.

The Norwegian constitution of 1814 followed the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway’s defeat of Napoleon and the subsequent ceding of Norway to Sweden.  The Crown Prince of Denmark began a Norwegian independence movement which culminated in the creation of a Norwegian national assembly.  The assembly, affected by the French and the Americans, wrote a constitution that retained the monarchy, limited its powers and chose its king.

Like the Poles, the Norwegians offended their neighbors and Sweden won the war.  The result, however, was a shift of Norway to the Swedish monarch rather than integration of two countries.  The Norwegian constitution was retained for Norway.

Constitutions became more commonplace in the 19th century.  In Europe, the Netherlands adopted one in 1815, Belgium in 1831, Luxembourg in 1842, Austria in 1820, and more.  In the Americas Argentina adopted a constitution in 1853, the Confederate States in 1862, Mexico in 1917.  In the Pacific, Tonga adopted a constitution in 1875, Australia in 1901.

Guarantees of rights

The initial amendments to the US constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, the press, religion, assembly, freedom to bear arms, assured criminal procedures, and addressed the relationship between the federal and state governments.  Further amendments assured the rights of freed slaves and their descendants, of women to vote, and of the election of Senators by the people of each state.  These amendments marked America’s growth as a democracy.

Freedom of expression around the world is charted by the World Population Review (WPR, a scholarly sociology journal that seeks to create understandable graphics about the world population).  The WPR draws on a 2018 reputational study undertaken by the Pew Research Center.  They define Freedom of speech as the right for an individual or community to express any opinions without censorship or restraint and without fear of retaliation or legal sanction. This is not limited to “speech” specifically. It includes other forms of expression.

Pew created an eight-item index and found the highest scoring country was the United States.  Other countries scoring above 5.0 on their index were Poland, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, and Canada.  Countries that scored between 4.0 and 5.0 were Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Peru, the Philippines, Chile, Brazil, Tanzania, Germany, Kenya, and Israel.

Some Americans count the constitutional right to bear arms as extremely important.  Mexico and Guatemala both have constitutional provisions protecting that right.   Others that once had such constitutional rights include Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia.  However, these are not the countries which currently that have the highest percent of gun ownership,

According to the WPR, the ten countries with the highest percentage of gun ownership are: The United States, the Falkland Islands, Yemen, New Caledonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Uruguay, Canada, Cyprus, and Finland. The US’s rate of gun ownership is double the next highest – the Falkland Islands and quadruple the tenth highest – Finland.

A Land of Immigrants

Even when we don’t live up to a vision of America as a melting pot or a mosaic, we cannot escape it.  We continue to admit immigrants – legally and not.  So do others.  According to the United Nations, about 15% of people in the US are foreign born – roughly the same as Western Europe as a whole.  The countries that most resemble the US in the portion of foreign-born living in their country are Belize, Iceland, and Germany.  The countries with the very lowest percent of foreign-born in their country are China, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.  The countries with the greatest percent of foreign-born living there are Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates.  Percentage of foreign-born appears to be a measure for which being in the middle is a good sign.

A vision of Empire

The US did not really resemble 19th century imperial powers like Great Britain and France, capturing and exploiting far-away lands. We were more like land empires that seek to take over adjacent areas – characteristic of Russia and Chin.  For the United State, thjat kind of acquisition was “Manifest Destiny.”

Russia has its near abroad – its ties to Belorussia and Ukraine that it is unwilling to give up.  China was a victim of European colonialism, but it has included in its nation the Uyghurs’ Xinjiang and the Tibetans’ Tibet. There is little more sensitive for China than suggestions that Taiwan (home of indigenous people and once a colony of Japan) should be considered an independent country. China believes Taiwan is a wayward province it will eventually reclaim.

The US purchased the huge territory of Louisiana, fought Mexico and won its northern holdings, and created several states in both regions. Alaska was purchased, Hawaii and Puerto won. Throughout, the indigenous American population was treated, at best, as an enemy to be defeated.  Alaska and Hawaii became US states by mutual decision – not how either Russia or China has gained nearby territories.

A land of free enterprise

One measure of commitment to free enterprise versus state enterprise is the percent of an economy that is in the public sector.   According to the UN’s International Labor Organization, the US percentage is 13%.  That resembles Brazil and Chile, Germany and Turkey, the Dominican Republican, Costa Rica, and Switzerland.  India and Japan are among the lowest in the world in the portion of the economy that is in the public sector. Cuba, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Kuwait are among the countries with the highest percent in the public sector. This may be another measure where being in the middle is a good thing.

American exceptionalism

Seymour Martin Lipset described the United States as exceptional – the first new nation, a nation with a unique vision of itself, a nation based on liberty, equality before the law, individual responsibility, representative democracy, a country unwilling to have a monarch and insistent on free enterprise.  American uniqueness has been redefined by some to see our country as better than others and obliged to make the world more like us.

The United States passes muster as the first new nation created out of a revolution steeped in ideals formed by the Enlightenment. There was, however, no need for the US to remake the world.  In the 19th century, at least, much of the world sought to remake itself to resemble the two nations that had revolutions to achieve visions of themselves that were a product of the Enlightenment – the US and France.

The American constitution remains a seminal document, serving as an inspiration to those countries that needed a constitution to define the nature of its government.  In freedom of speech, perhaps the most important of the freedoms a country can establish, the United States leads the world.  Sadly, the United States, to an even greater degree, leads the world in another right established in an early constitutional amendment – the percentage of people who own guns.  America’s difficulty in passing certain legislation, among them restrictions on the purchase of guns has raised questions about inefficiency created by the American constitution.

Other areas where the United States is often thought of as leading, may find the US to actually be middling.  The United States is in the middle among countries as a place for foreigners to come and live.  The United States is in the among countries for the extent to which its economy is in public hands.

One area in which the United States resembles its most serious current adversaries is the extent to which it is a country that is also an empire.  Like Russia before the demise of the Soviet Union and like China now, the United States is an empire of aggregated areas. Nevertheless, the American Empire, with a single enormous and complicated exception – the American Civil War – is a product of mutual agreement.  Not all Americans had the opportunity to share in those agreements – not the indigenous population treated as an enemy, not those of Spanish descent who remained in the lands won from Mexico and not the enslaved freed in the Civil War.

Before the end of the 20th century and early in the 21st, American exceptionalism came to mean, for some, exemption for international law.  There could be no more dangerous view. The most modern concept of international law begins with the United Nations and continues through a variety of international agreements and institutions. In some way these developments were in response to the egregious rejection of international standards by Germany under the Nazis.  But they were not alone.  The several Communist regimes were unwilling to accept the international law of capitalist nations. If the US were to abandon international law and its institutions, we abandon the concept of the rule of law.

The United States does pass muster as exceptional. On the whole, however, the United States has advocated for international law and international institutions.  That is what is in our interest.

The United States does pass muster as exceptional. Nevertheless, there is plenty of work to be done.   If America’s powers that be can find a way to achieve genuine mutual agreement for the integration of the descendants of the formerly enslaved, of the Spanish defeated by American aggression, and the indigenous First Nations into the American polity, we would be an even more exceptional nation.  And we would be the model for the world that we aspire to be.

Some 2021 Election Results

Texas 06      May 1, 2021

Multiparty Primary   Susan Wright (R ) 19.2%, Jake Elizey (R ) 13.8%, Jana Lynn Sanchez (D) 13.4%. Sanchez eliminated for the run off. If the DCCC had made Sanchez a priority, she would have been in the run off.

New Mexico 01 June 1, 2021

Special Election  Melanie Stansbury (D) 60.3%. Mark Moores (R ) 35.7%

Stansbury elected.  Will run again in November 2022. The DCCC made Stansbury a priority.  She won by 8 points more than her predecessor, Deb Haaland, now Secretary of the Interior, won in 2020. 

Female District Party Leader, Part A, Assembly District 76

Democratic Primary, Preliminary, but insurmountable results

Rebecca Weintraub (D) 55.12%. Esther Yang (D) 44.49%.

Thank you to those who supported Rebecca