Discomfort Regarding Mass Agreement of America as an Empire

When I read Amy Kaplan’s Presidential Address, I was shocked to hear that most scholars agree that America is an empire; from conservative writers across the political spectrum such as Charles Krauthammer, to liberal “reluctant imperialists,” America is accepted to have been formed as and to currently be an empire. Even public figures such as Dick Cheney are in on this semantic movement.
What are the repercussions of America accepting itself as empire? As some have hoped, “coming out” of the empire closet (Streeby 190) does not reduce the strength of the imperialism. “Empire,” as it applies to us, ceases to be the dirty word that it was when it was associated with former empires. When political leaders and pundits agree on what America is and has been, from a humanitarian, democratic, bottom-up vantage point, why should we want to be associated with imperialistic past empires? What do we have to gain by associating the American Empire with Roman, Spanish, and British empires?
I think our acceptance of our empire, accounting for both of Streeby’s narratives, is one framework through which our American Exceptionalism manifests itself in material, harmful ways. Because we see ourselves as morally superior, as champions of “universally-accepted” ideals such as freedom and democracy, we go as far as to wage modern holy wars, violently deciding who is on which side of humanity (a la Bush at Guantanamo). On the side, we yield our “soft power” to maintain our powerful status.
This summer, I worked at a camp named “American Village,” which was located in France. I spent July as a skit-making, ESL-teaching tendril in the machine of supporting our empire by means of soft power. Because of our continued Manifest Destiny, we feel just in spreading at the international level, and truly believing, “America, God Shed His Grace on Thee.”
On a more speculative standpoint, I end with this assertion: the prevailing sentiment willingly aligns us with the Roman Empire’s might because we want to secure our place in history as working tendrils of the American Empire. Both the conservatives and “reluctant imperialists” Kaplan identifies are proud to be theorizing from within American borders because they believe this will be the “right” side of history.

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