Exceptional? Sure. Exceptionally good? Not a chance.
As with most intelligent discussions, I think it’s important to first clarify the language being used. What do we mean exactly by the term “exceptional”? The dictionary lists these two alternate definitions:
1. Unusual; not typical.
2. Unusually good; outstanding.
While I think most Texans tend to agree with our exceptionalism in terms of the latter definition, I will go along only if we are using the former. In fact, I might go so far as to add my own third option here, something to the tune of “Unusually bad; substandard.” But we’ll get back to that.
For those of you subscribing to #2 above, it would seem that you are in camp with a substantial portion of the population, if not the outright majority. Many seem to believe that our state is the ideal model which all other states ought to aspire. While I see exactly zero evidence to support such an outlandish claim, I suppose it could be said that we at least come by it honestly. For starters, American Exceptionalism is certainly in no short supply in this country. As Americans, the vast majority believe that our country is superior to all others in every possibly way, though I doubt many are aware that the term itself was coined by Joseph Stalin. Christ, now I sound like Glen Beck.
Anyway. It seems to me we’ve just taken American Exceptionalism one step further in the Lone Star State and declared ourselves the greatest thing since sliced bread. (DFW: Home of Mrs. Baird’s! Woot!) Is this healthy? (The notion, not the bread.) I tend to think not. It seems to both breed and encourage the xenophobic and tribalistic mentality that is arguably, at least in my view, our biggest problem. I think it is bad at the state level for the very same reasons I think it is bad at the national level: The airs of arrogance, condescension, and superiority only stand to alienate the rest of the world’s citizens with whom we have to get along; it discourages our own citizens from feeling that we are all on level footing, and should therefore consider alternate opinions and perspectives in our decision-making processes as equally valid positions; and it negates any incentives we might otherwise have for learning about other places and cultures. Why bother learning anything about these other crappy states or countries that are inherently inferior? What could we possibly hope to learn from them anyway? We’re clearly the best. They should all just learn about and emulate us and the world would be a better place, right? Wrong.
Very, very wrong.
If the rest of the country (and perhaps the world) were to follow our “exceptional” Texas lead, here’s a glimpse of what they would get (as reported by Gail Collins in the book discussed in our assigned reading list, As Texas Goes…, with a host of citations offered for each statistic):
Percent of Uninsured Children: 1st (out of 50, obviously)
Percent of Population with Food Insecurity: 2nd
Percent of Non-Elderly uninsured: 1st
Teenage Birth Rate: 7th (Three cheers for abstinence education!)
Overall Birthrate: 2nd
Percent of Population 25 and older without a HS diploma: 1st
Amount of CO2 Emissions: 1st
Amount of Toxic Chemicals Released into Water: 1st
Amount of Toxic Chemicals Released into Air: 1st
Amount of Hazardous Waste Generated: 1st
Yay, Texas! We’re #1! We’re #1! Indeed, in many respects, we are…
Unfortunately, this only stands to support my claim that while, yes, we might be exceptional, it is much more easily argued that we are exceptionally bad.
In that oh-so friendly Texas nature—Southern hospitality and all that jazz—might I offer my fellow residents a heapin' helpin' of delicious Humble Pie?