‘Make America Great Again’: Trump’s slogan seems both to yearn for a time when the United States had more influence, and to call for its pre-eminence to be restored. In its own way, it asserts that the US is – or should be – different. In fact it was only Trump’s predecessor, Obama, who was the first president to talk regularly about American exceptionalism, yet to Trump it is something that is long lost and it is his job to recover it. Yet belief in the US’s exceptional nature has been a constant feature of the country’s history, whoever has been president, and continues right up to the present day.
Its starting point in the early nineteenth century was the ‘Monroe doctrine’, the assertion of the US’s pre-eminent power in the western hemisphere, replacing the old colonial powers such as Spain and Portugal. Its domestic counterpart was the US’s God-given ‘manifest destiny’, which justified settlement of the whole North American continent, regardless of the presence of the people to whom much of the land already belonged. Whereas the Monroe doctrine at first reflected a degree of respect for the then newly emerging Latin American nations, by the end of the century it only thinly disguised a new kind of imperialism which justified US intervention anywhere in the hemisphere.
Soon after the end of the second world war, the former ‘great powers’ began to give up those colonies that had not already been returned to their rightful owners. But, fuelled by the cold war, the US began a new phase of imperialism. Dan Kovalik, in his new book The Plot to Control the World, quotes a report, which he says is almost certainly an underestimate, that the US interfered in 81 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000. And even that number omits more serious interventions such as US-provoked coups, assassinations and invasions.
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