Exceptionalism, and Science Fiction

  • A screed by Brian Karem at Salon about how “America has lost its collective mind”;
  • How ideas of American exceptionalism have been reflected in 20th century science fiction;
  • Examples about “don’t say gay” laws; Trump’s fascist rhetoric; Trump’s dementia; how Trump fans will take his “bloodbath” comment literally; a North Carolina politician who calls for the public executions of Biden and Obama; and Charlie Kirk promising to fight if the election doesn’t go his way.

No doubt America is exceptional, in the size of its defense budget at least. (And, actually, in the number of its Nobel-Prize winning scientists, too.) But the word ‘exceptional’ has other connotations…


About this piece, I wonder, in what sense are all Americans to blame? But it does suggest how this applies to science fiction.

Salon, Brian Karem, 21 Mar 2024: We have met the enemy and he is us, subtitled “And with no sense of humor, the joke is on us”

The first thing to note here is that this isn’t screed about Republicans, or even MAGA. It’s about all of us Americans (though mostly about Republicans and MAGA as the worst examples). The article begins:

America has lost its collective mind.

Some will argue that we lost it years ago and they may be right.

Today we are saturated by “truth bombs” on social media which are anything but, given to us by narcissists, climate change deniers, rapists, misogynists, racists, far left extremists, far right extremists, senior citizens convicted in civil court of business fraud, judges who pocket wads of sweaty cash, and trashy lawmakers getting caught walking the dog during a family friendly showing of “BeetleJuice” . . . I mean “Boebert” the musical.

America the Beautiful, this ain’t.

It’s easy to blame Donald Trump. But it would be wrong. He remains nothing more than the latest symptom of a peculiar American illness born from hubris, ignorance and arrogance.

We have no sense of humor and the joke is on us.

Then follows a litany of symptoms. The decline of the independent press. A European friend of the writer told him “You’re a third world nation except when it comes to the size of your military.” The number of Americans who won’t defend democracy, defending Vladimir Putin ahead of Democrats. How extreme liberals want to cancel people, while extreme Republicans want to kill you — they say so. How Pence refuses to endorse Trump, and no one cares. Fox News. RFK Jr. Anti-vaxxers. Clarence Thomas. MAGA craziness, as the devolution of the once proud Republican party. Democrats who are only marginally better, as they deny that Biden is old. No one has a sense of humor. Finishing,

And when the Trumpers started defending Trump’s use of “Bloodbath,” and screaming that using that word was just triggering liberal “snowflakes” I reminded them that I didn’t worry about liberals being triggered by that word. I’m far more concerned about gun-hoarding lunatics who would shoot others based on what Trump says.

“They deserve it,” I was told.

Welcome to 2024.

So the writer doesn’t try to *explain* any of this except in the line from the first quote above about “hubris, ignorance and arrogance.” Part of “American exceptionalism” is the notion of self-reliance and independence (which results in suspicion of government and all kinds of expertise) born, I suspect, from the frontier mentality that so influenced 19th century America. (I suspect de Tocqueville explained all this.) This would be why European nations don’t exhibit the symptoms listed above. (Which isn’t to say they’re just as anti-immigration as Americans are.)

How does this apply to science fiction? The answer is in how science fiction, as a *genre* (to leave out any number of international exceptions), was an American thing, beginning in the early 20th century. It inherited the peculiarly American presumptions of self-reliance and superiority (Heinlein’s “competent man,” Campbell’s near-racist presumption that humans would be superior to any alien race) and manifest destiny (the idea that humanity has the right to spread across the galaxy and colonize other planets). These attitudes may be fading in 21st century SF. I noted something similar in the comments to the end of Wilson’s book, here. Science fiction may be getting over the hubris that still infects many Americans.


Examples? The usual rounds.


AP News, 20 Mar 2024: ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law would be expanded to all public school grades in Alabama under proposal.

Because if you don’t say the words, or tell them about life outside their bubble, no kids will grow up and realize they’re gay. And everyone will have grandchildren!


Yahoo! News, 19 Mar 2024: Presidential Historian: Trump Actually Doing ‘Us All A Favor’ With Fascist Rhetoric

Michael Beschloss:

“A major party candidate is saying, ‘You elect me, there’s going to be dictatorship, bloodbath, violence, retribution against my political enemies.’ That equals what we saw in Italy, in Germany and other places”


Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 14 Mar 2024: “Experts are desperate to warn the public”: Hundreds sign Dr. John Gartner’s Trump dementia petition, subtitled “They see the signs of Trump’s cognitive decline through the eyes of years of training and experience”

And his MAGA fans don’t care.


Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 19 Mar 2024: Trump’s call for a “bloodbath” was literal — let’s not waste time pretending it was ambiguous, subtitled “Trump hides his threats of fascist violence in plain sight — here is how to fight back”

Trump apologists, and even fact checkers, say the remark is taken out of context. But his fans won’t care, any more than they cared on Jan. 6th. They’ll take him literally. Wanna bet?


Joe.My.God, 21 Mar 2024: Defiant North Carolina Schools Nominee Refuses To Retract Her Calls To Publicly Execute Biden And Obama

See? They tell you.


AlterNet, David Badash, 21 Mar 2024: Trump ally’s stunning request: ‘If this election doesn’t go our way the next day we fight’.

This is about Charlie Kirk.

This entry was posted in Conservative Resistance, conservatives, Politics, science fiction. Bookmark the permalink.