Throughout history, political ideology has been used by all cultures to manipulate the belief systems of the citizens of that culture. For example, in war, each side is taught that its cause is the just one, and that the cause of the other side is unjust.
The ideology known as American Exceptionalism has influenced the belief systems of the American people since the earliest settlers began making their way from east to west.
In his book Philosophical and Ideological Voices in Education (2004), G. L. Gutek described American Exceptionalism as a specific type of nationalism that emcompasses the ideology that Americans and the United States are different and superior, unique and extraordinary. As settlers moved westward to inhabit the territory between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the belief arose that God had favored Americans above other peoples.
Americans were granted the physical safety from attack that was provided by residing on a vast continent situated between two oceans. The topography of the land itself offered many natural resources.
In spite of the fact that the land was in actuality already inhabited, it seemed to the early settlers that they had been given this land by God for the purpose of establishing a country devoid of the religious, political, and social tyrannies faced by many European countries of the time. This thought process is the basis for the political ideology of American Exceptionalism.
While in other countries national identity is based largely on history and birth, in America national identity is based solely on the sharing of a common ideology. In his book American Exceptionalism: A Double Edged Sword (1996) author S. M. Lipset pointed out that while an Englishman is always an Englishman regardless of personal ideology, an American is considered "un-American" if individual ideology differs from the common ideology of the American political machine.
At no time in American history has this mindset been as evident as in our post-9/11 era. In the months following the attack on the twin towers, anyone who dared voice an opinion that was in opposition to the majority was quickly labeled "un-American." In extreme cases, public figures were fired and recording artists were banned from appearances.
As pointed out by Gutek (2004), however, the ideology of American Exceptionalism operates on a collective selective memory. The history of the United States as taught tends to de-emphasize events that portray the United States in a negative light. Incidents such as the atrocities committed against the Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, and the state of the working poor are often glossed over in the teaching of American history, because they are incongruent with the ideology of American Exceptionalism.
The current Bush administration continues to invoke this ideology in order to manipulate American perceptions to this day. In his article The Empire Has No Clothes: U. S. Foreign Policy Exposed (2004), author I. Eland discussed current evidence of the ideology of American Exceptionalism, citing the similarities between the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the current U. S. invasion of Iraq.
In both cases, the mitigating factor was the suspected harboring of weapons of mass destruction, yet the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was seen by Americans as a horrible injustice, while the American invasion of Iraq is seen by many Americans as morally and ethically just.
Because of the political ideology that we are inherently superior, we feel justified in imposing sanctions on other countries, yet we are often in violation of those same sanctions ourselves. For example, we impose sanctions on other countries for collecting nuclear weapons, yet we have the largest cache of nuclear weapons and are the only country to have ever used such weapons. In the collective American definition of itself, we are champions of human rights, yet at the same time we abuse prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
This dual belief system is readily evident to other countries around the world, yet we are collectively unable to grasp it. The political ideology of American Exceptionalism that is promoted by our politicians does not allow us to admit mistakes, and it encourages us to act with hypocrisy. In closing, Eland (2004) advised that the United States should lead by example rather than by force. By using military action to force our own belief system upon other countries, we are acting against our own ideals, and are ourselves creating the very tyranny our forefathers sought to escape.