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Is America now an exceptionally bad country?

Roger Cohen offers a mixed but mostly sympathetic review of Godfrey Hodgson's new book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism.

Here is Cohen in the New York Times:

The book is at its most convincing in tracing the distortions of the American idea in recent decades. The victorious end of the cold war left American power unrivaled, reinforcing the missionary impulse. Beginning with the conservative reaction to the counterculture of the 1960s, the country's politics veered rightward, feeding a mythology of American power. Working Americans lost out to their corporate masters and the unregulated financial engineers of Wall Street even as capitalism took "its place on the podium as an aspect of American exceptionalism almost equal with democracy." The culture wars saw the rise of a new Christian right intent on defending its conception of American values not only against metrosexual coastal cities but also against a death-penalty-deriding Canada and Europe. The result, Hodgson argues, is an America unique not for its virtue but for its failings and illusions.

The high number of its prison inmates is exceptional. The quality of its health care is exceptionally bad. The degree of its social inequality is exceptionally acute. Public education has gone into exceptional decline. The Americanization of the Holocaust and uncritical support for Israel have demonstrated an exceptional ability to gloss over uncomfortable truths, including broad American indifference to Hitler's genocide as it happened.

Some dubious assertions are offered in support of this excoriation, not least that Cuban health care is "as good as, or better than, the average in America." Everything from the fate of Native Americans to the paucity of United States foreign aid [sic!!] is invoked in the jeremiad's cause. But I don't want to cavil; this is a moment of painful American nemesis and it's captured well by Hodgson. Where I think he's wrong is in his apparent conviction that a sobered United States can and should become simply a nation among nations. . . .

President Obama, who has said he believes in American exceptionalism, albeit one based more on values than power, has set out to right many of the ills listed by Hodgson.