The United States is exceptional, but not for the reasons you may think.
It has been a year since I arrived in the United States and I thought it was time to make a summary of my impressions about this country. Americans pride themselves in their “American exceptionalism”. And I agree with that statement: the United States is “unusual, not typical” to take the Oxford dictionary definition of “exceptional”. But I don’t believe it is true because of the reasons usually advanced. I believe the United States is exceptional for their capacity to embody everything and its opposite and to an extent that I have not seen before. America is the country of the extremes, something that has baffled me more than once during this past year. And the recent “legitimate rape” scandal is just a reminder to the world that the United States is capable of the best, but also the worst.
Here is a short list of reasons the United States is exceptional under my definition:
- It is a country that was one of the first western countries to legalize abortion broadly, but today is subject to a growing number of restrictions in numerous states.
- It is a country capable of sending a robot to Mars to study the habitability of the planet, but also has 40% of the population believing that man was made in its actual form by God 6,000 years ago.
- It is a country that has only one state with less than 20% obesity, and an average of 30% obesity nationwide, but is still able to win more medals than any other country in the 2012 Olympics.
- It is a country that until recently was the biggest polluter in the world (now ranked second), but in which 46% of American deny that human activity is the reason for global warming.
- It is a country that has more nobel prizes than any other country, but whose Congress recently passed a law declaring tomato sauce on pizza a vegetable.
- It is a country where the bottom 50% of Americans own 1% of the country’s wealth, while the top 1% owns 34.5% of it.
- It is a country that produces more porn than any other country in the world, but where most Hollywood actresses need to wear a bra while having sex.
- It is a country where within a one hundred mile radius, you can find both German baptist farmers who live a very ascetic lifestyle in the California Central Valley and clothes optional, hippie-style student cooperatives on the Berkeley campus.
- It is a country that holds the title of “World Most Powerful” country, but where you have a disproportionate number of presidential candidates that have no clue of foreign affairs.
- It is a country where you can drive at 16, vote, die for your country, and get a medical marijuana license at 18, but can only enjoy a cold beer when you are 21 (and with the exception of a few Muslim countries, the U.S. is the only country with such an age limit).
These are just a few highlights of extremes I have found while in the U.S., and I intentionally did not research the deeper reasons for each of these phenomenons, as my intention is to paint a general picture of how the United States can appear to an alien.
I will conclude by saying that I believe that the United States has the potential to do the worst and the best like no other country I have visited, and because of all the people that I have personally met, I trust that the U.S. can remain a source of greatness.