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Venezuela: The arrogance of power

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded that the European Union with its 28 countries and 513 million people recognize a U.S.-anointed politician as president of Venezuela, even though he was virtually unknown by people there and was prepped for his role by U.S officials and agencies.

Pompeo’s demand is the latest example of what late Sen. J. William Fulbright called “The Arrogance of Power” — built on the view that the United States is the most altruistic and righteous nation. As such, however, it tends to “confuse itself with virtue and particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence.”

This arrogance of power is profoundly linked to a fundamental belief that has shaped this country since the Founding — despite its documented genocide, slavery and military aggression. It is the Exceptional Nation engaged in a Noble Cause to defend democracy and freedom, and our values and way of life. The belief justifies U.S. foreign policy in general, and the present coup attempt in Venezuela. American exceptionalism has been a bipartisan and consistent claim of prominent public officials, as reflected in the following proclamations (cited in Marciano, “The American War in Vietnam”).

The belief is forever linked with President Woodrow Wilson. “Sometimes people call me an idealist ... . Well, that’s the way I know I am an American. America ... is the only idealistic nation in the world.” The destiny of America is to be “the ... most progressive, the most honorable nation in the world.”

After the Second World War, the influential diplomat George Kennan wrote: “ leadership of the free world was thrust upon the American people by divine providence and the laws of both history and nature.” Our very “security as a nation [is] dependent on accepting the responsibilities of moral and policy leadership that history plainly intended [us] to bear.”

As he escalated the American War in Vietnam in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson stated that “We want nothing for ourselves ... we fight for values and we fight for principles.” The United States, “uniquely blessed with surpassing riches and an exceptional history, stands above the international system, not within it. Alone among nations, she stands ready to be the bearer of the law.”

President Ronald Reagan was a true believer in American exceptionalism. We “have never been aggressors. We have always struggled to defend freedom and democracy. We have no territorial ambitions. We occupy no countries.”

President George Herbert Walker Bush declared that “We are still and ever the freest nation on earth, the kindest nation on earth.”

Bill Clinton continued the Exceptionalism celebration: “America’s ideals are more and more the aspirations of people everywhere in the world. It is the power of our ideas that makes America a uniquely trusted nation.”

Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s secretary of state, proclaimed: “The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere.” If we “have to use force, it is because we are America We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

President Barack Obama claimed that “America remains the one indispensable nation, and the world needs a strong America ... We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.”

And on June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe, Obama declared: “The United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”

If someone with a documented history of violence against others continually declared himself as the most exceptional and virtuous being, people would reject his self-proclamation and conclude that he was dangerous or unstable. Too many citizens, however, seem incapable of applying this common sense to this nation and its leaders. This opiate of exceptionalism is a danger to our nation, Venezuela, and the world.

John Marciano lives in Talent.