The Unravelling of America

As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country.

Activist Anthropologist and Public Ruminator Wade Davis discusses the decline of the American Empire. But his former colleague at UBC Deanna Kreisel counters with her own attempted take-down of smug Canadian exceptionalism.
posted by Rumple (15 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

The Problem with the New American Exceptionalism, from all the way back in the ancient mists of 2012:

The will not to believe is the shifting sand beneath the unstable entire architecture of American Exceptionalism. Because our attachment to the idea is theological, and not empirical, we can neither look at our history nor our politics honestly. Eventually, the lies pile up, one atop the other, and you get a Willard Romney, who runs an entire campaign based on self-refutation and deceit. Eventually, the elections become electronic Kabuki. Our elections must be honest, not because we make them so, but simply because they are ours. It will all work out right in the end because this is America, fk yeah, the shining city on a hill. Faith eventually undermines reality. We start believing in spirits and incantations. And then we fall, hard.

posted by Rhaomi at 12:22 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]

Deanna Kreisel’s rebuttal rings true: Davis’s “We all shop at Safeway” is so West Van privilege it hurts.

Never trust a country that can’t even decide on a standard for screwdrivers.
posted by scruss at 12:31 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]

Eventually, the elections become electronic Kabuki.

creating the executive baka- roo.
posted by clavdivs at 12:45 PM on August 10

Tell Deanna never to visit San Francisco! Oh I forgot she moved to the egalitarian stronghold of Mississippi.
posted by Max Power at 12:46 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]
Deanna Kreisel’s rebuttal rings true: Davis’s “We all shop at Safeway” is so West Van privilege it hurts.


Never trust a country that can’t even decide on a standard for screwdrivers.

You’d have to pry my colour-coded Robertson screwdrivers from my cold, dead hands.
posted by bcd at 12:49 PM on August 10

I’m Canadian, and I sometimes wonder what would have happened had the pandemic occurred while Stephen Harper was prime minister. Would he have kept the border with the U.S. open? He spent ten years ignoring climate change, preferring to grow Alberta’s economy; he might have ignored the pandemic as well.

I can’t help but think that one reason why Canada has dealt with the pandemic relatively well (besides good old luck) is that the Conservative party is currently changing leaders, so they have been silent throughout. They’ll have a new leader at the end of this month, and he’ll start spewing the usual nonsense that Conservative leaders spew. And since much of the Canadian press is pro-Conservative, the party will have a platform. (I freely admit to a bias here.)

Also: Canada’s case count is likely to go up when we open the schools up in September. Most provinces don’t have a particularly well thought out plan for this. I’m pretty much planning on returning to a Phase 1 lifestyle in the fall.

I feel terrible for the majority of Americans that didn’t vote for Trump and are busy doing the same sort of sensible things that most Canadians are doing (wearing a mask, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and practicing physical distancing). It must be like being in some sort of horrible hostage situation. I have family and friends in the U.S., and I fear for them. Stay safe, everyone.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 12:54 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]

The paragraphs about Canada felt out of place in this piece.
posted by shenkerism at 12:55 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]
I wonder whom he blames for the election of Doug Ford — a buffoon’s buffoon in the true Trumpian mold — to the premiership of Ontario in 2018?

Heh. Fair point. As an Ontario resident, I blame Ontarians.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:00 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

Canada is probably not a perfect state, but then who is?

American Exceptionalism, on the other hand, has become a disease, rather than the aspiration and dream it once was.

One of the things Trump was right about during his 2015 campaign, in a wrong way, is that the US in many ways resembles a “third world” country more than the leader of the world. I remember taking a wrong turn in Houston and arriving in something much more like the favelas of Brazil than even the poorest areas in Paris. This was during the 90’s, when Clinton was president. Trump blames the poor for their poverty (or more likely, for their skin color), but that doesn’t take away the fact that parts of the US suffer from squalor one normally wouldn’t expect in a wealthy country.

One of my friends was infected by the corona virus, and has quite severe late effects. She is a school teacher, and her employer has accepted that she will be on half time indefinitely. To compensate for the rest of the time she will have sick benefits. Her treatment is free, obviously. Since she is a low-income worker, her taxes are low, we tax the rich to provide for the poor.
We also have decent roads in every corner of our country, and great hospitals that are sought out by billionaires from less fortunate places.
Still, some people are very rich in this country and have huge estates and private planes.

Right now, we have a Social Democratic government and I can be as smug as ever. But if our former corrupt government had been in charge, we’d probably been like the UK. Still better than the US, but not at all safe.
posted by mumimor at 1:03 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

I’ll give Kreisel this: it’s not easy to find someone who hates living in Vancouver, and less easy yet to find someone happier living in Mississippi. To be fair, she had to escape all that Canadian gun violence, crime, prejudice and poverty.
posted by Italian Radio at 1:04 PM on August 10
I wonder whom he blames for the election of Doug Ford — a buffoon’s buffoon in the true Trumpian mold — to the premiership of Ontario in 2018?

I certainly blame Ontarians, but Ford was unexpectedly lucky – he became leader of the Progressive Conservatives (under questionable circumstances) just before the election.

For better or worse, the voters of Ontario were fed up with the Liberals, who had been in power for eons. The situation was so dire for them that virtually anybody could have won the election as leader of the PC party.

Ford was an unknown quantity in most of Ontario, and many parts of the province tend to vote PC reflexively by default. We in Toronto tried our best to jump up and down, yell and scream, and warn everybody as loudly as we could, but to no avail.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 1:06 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]

Kriesel’s takedown is pretty thorough and cogent, Max, and deserves better than to be simply brushed off based on the author’s residence: the sadism of modern capitalism has me stuck in fucking Texas, which I would rate slightly below Cocytus in terms of places I want to live (even moreso, now). For reasons of family or employer (clearly the latter in Kriesel’s case, and my own) we don’t all get to pick where we live, and based on her expressed political views if she left Vancouver for Mississippi then it probably wasn’t because she considered it an upgrade either in real terms or her political proximity to the median voter.

Italian Radio: she’s pretty clear that she loves Vancouver but thinks it’s overpriced and not statistically better than most major US metros, and she provides a lot of solid documentation to that effect. The claim that she prefers Mississippi is wholly your invention, not something borne out anywhere in the text.

I get it: we all hate what America has become, or what we have become aware of it always having been, but Davis’ piece was both intellectually lazy and shockingly disingenuous, and piling on someone for rightly calling it out as such and providing copious statistics to prove her point doesn’t demonstrate our virtue, it demonstrates our own intellectual sloth. We can do better than this.
posted by Ryvar at 1:19 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

This is a very white vs. white conversation, but I’ll scooch my Latino ass in here for this: the only issue I’d take with Kreisel’s rebuttal is the underlying implication that anti-Americanism is misplaced and mistaken, rather than richly earned by the USA itself.

My parents fled two different Latin American countries that were perennially experiencing CIA/School of the Americas-style “regime change” and US-supported dictatorships. They fled to Canada, while other branches of the family fled to the US, and some stayed behind. All of us suffered and struggled and survived in different but comparable ways.

From our not-fully-post-colonial perspective, it is entirely possible that both of these statements are true:
a) Canadian smugness is The Literal Worst
b) ‘anti-Americanism’ deserves as much sympathy as ‘reverse racism’
posted by LMGM at 1:19 PM on August 10

I kinda nodded along when the original article came out, but I’m going to give this one to Kreisel.

There are salient differences between the US and Canada and Davis does a poor job of surfacing them and drawing causality with current issues.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 1:19 PM on August 10

c) …and both built their empires on stolen land.
posted by LMGM at 1:23 PM on August 10