American exceptionalism — perhaps the most prominent of exceptionalist doctrines — is the idea that the U.S. is qualitatively different from and morally superior to the rest of the world, such that it should act and be treated according to its own special set of rules…
The U.S. government that admits it ‘tortured some folks’ doesn’t generally believe that torture is OK; instead, it made a few exceptions.
The U.S. government — and, I should add, the libertarian right — doesn’t generally believe that it’s OK to wiretap citizens without due process, to execute citizens abroad without due process, or to hold the accused indefinitely without due process; but again, with the right justifications and exigencies in play, they’ve made some exceptions…
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t generally suggest it’s OK to stop and frisk, let alone shoot citizens of any race or creed without reasonable suspicion and cause; but under the “right” circumstances, we make exceptions.
The objective is never to violate rights, compromise sacred principles and murder the innocent; the objective is.. rhetorically reinforcing the delusion that your moral superiority puts you above the laws and customs of everyone else.
We witness in Ferguson a microcosm of this logic, where agents of the state have turned the doctrine of exceptionalism on our own people to justify the suspension of basic civil rights. If basic civil rights dictate due process, black Americans are the exception. If basic civil rights dictate freedom of the press, those journalists arrested for doing their jobs are the exception. If basic civil rights dictate free expression and peaceable assembly, the crowds in Ferguson taking rubber-bullet flack and choking on clouds of tear gas are the exception. The problem with so many exceptions, however, is that they risk becoming the rule.
For this reason it’s crucial that we understand how this logic of exceptionalism works, whether in matters foreign or domestic. The logic of exceptionalism means that someone can always make an exception of you, or of the codes in place meant to protect you.