Sarah Palin said it once during the Vice Presidential debate, and I was shocked that Joseph Biden failed to take note of it: “America is a nation of exceptionalism, and we are to be that shining city on a hill.”
Just a few days later, Palin said it again. Calling Barack Obama a man who is “palling around with terrorists”, Palin criticized Obama for perceiving any imperfection in the USA. Barack Obama is “someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect”, Palin said, whereas, “we see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism.”
What is this American exceptionalism that Sarah Palin keeps on bringing up? It’s a lot more than just the perky belief that the USA is really, really great. American exceptionalism is a particular political-religious ideology that is as old as the presence of English-speaking governments here in North America.
Over at the Huffington Post, Andrew Becevich has written a good article that notes the connection between Sarah Palin’s comments and the theocratic political ideology of John Winthrop, the Puritan who served as the first leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was John Winthrop, and not Ronald Reagan, who invented the phrase “city on a hill” to describe the destiny of the European-sparked government established in North America back in the 1600s.
That article, however, is but an introduction to the meaning behind the idea of American exceptionalism that Sarah Palin has begun to express as the core of her foreign policy plans. There are many connections Sarah Palin has with American exceptionalist ideology, and they go far back before her campaign for Vice President in 2008. This week, I’ll be writing a series of articles exploring the dimensions of Sarah Palin’s American exceptionalism that describe the ideological implications of Sarah Palin’s association with the violent vision of holy American power that began with John Winthrop, filling out connections that were just hinted at in Becevich’s article.
The most important thing to understand about American exceptionalism is that its shape was defined by the Puritan theocratic agenda reflected in John Winthop’s sermon, A Model of Christian Charity. That agenda had fueled religious violence in England, and when it was brought to North America, it did so once again.
That Sarah Palin should openly link herself to such a violent ideology will not be a surprise for those who have been following Palin’s frightening use of the Wasilla Assembly of God church, her home church since she was twelve years old. A few weeks ago, Sarah Palin confirmed that she had made a deal with the Wasilla Assembly of God, to use her power in government in order to make sure that the will of God would be accomplished. That holy will would include a fossil fuel pipleline and a continued holy war in Iraq. In that appearance, Palin referred approvingly of an earlier speech by her spiritual mentor, Thomas Muthee, who said that Palin was part of a larger effort to “infiltrate” the American government on behalf of a right wing Christian agenda, “invading” our secular government in order to convert it into a thoroughly Christian institution. Just a few weeks ago, Muthee returned to the Wasilla Assembly of God, where it was pronounced that the church would “stomp on the heads of the enemy” – the enemy being non-Christians in America, whom the church claimed were aligned with demonic “python spirits”.
The essential message of the extremist agenda of the Wasilla Assembly of God beliefs about a prophecy of God’s plan for America, all the way through the stomping of non-Christians, comes from the same movement that inspired John Winthrop to write A Model of Christian Charity. So, by understanding that sermon, we can understand a lot more about the ideology that Sarah Palin would impose in the White House if John McCain were to be elected this year, and then die.
In these times of economic panic, it’s important to understand that the foundation of John Winthrop’s theocratic agenda is economic inequality. The very first lines of A Model of Christian Charity read,
“God Almighty, in his most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection.”
In this sermon, which Sarah Palin herself referenced as a great vision for America, Winthrop explains that God himself has made it so that there are two kinds of people: Rich people, and poor people. There is no middle class in Winthrop’s version, and there is no social mobility between rich and poor either. Winthrop’s idea of charity is not to help the poor end their poverty, but merely to ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty while making sure that poverty itself remains. Rich people, as Winthrop understood it, were made rich by God, and their wealth was therefore a holy thing which must not be resisted by those living in poverty.
Consider what this means for the way that a President Sarah Palin would deal with Wall Street and Main Street, especially given an economic panic of the sort our nation is enduring today. Palin’s basic approach would be based upon the understanding that the wealthy are inherently entitled to keep their wealth, and that those Americans living in poverty should remain there, because that’s where God intended them to be.
Never forget that just as the ideology of American exceptionalism holds that God himself has anointed the USA to be a privileged, powerful “city on a hill”, and that other nations should be less fortunate and impoverished, American exceptionalists believe that people in power are, by the fact of that power, proved to have the special favor of heaven itself. Upper class Americans, in this view, are in special favor, and must be allowed to retain their upper class privileges.
For those of us who are struggling to stay in the American middle class, Sarah Palin’s signal of adherence to John Winthrop’s vision for America should serve as a powerful warning. Palin will serve the economic elites in America, and allow the rest of us to sink into poverty, where her exceptionalist ideology proclaims that we belong.