Delusions of grandeur ahead of US elections blind the country

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The United States, its mission and its president are never more grandiose than during the election seasons. These campaigns are magnificent exaggerations of the influence of the US executive.

Accordingly, presidential challengers' appeals to voters always summon the same three motifs, in the same order: the United States is providentially the greatest country in the world; the US has regressed and is in danger of losing its triumphant position; if voters act swiftly in favour of a given candidate, the US will be saved.

Americans and their leaders have spoken of the United States as a chosen nation for hundreds of years. Contemporary political language in the US is no less self-congratulatory. "We are all descendants of the men and women who built here the nation that saved the world," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio in messianic language in June on the Senate floor. Ronald Reagan said repeatedly in his political speeches that the US was and must remain a "shining city upon a hill", words he plucked from a famous sermon delivered by John Winthrop in 1630 on the ship Arbella as it carried Europeans to New England.

Presidential candidates speak in such dispensationalist terms, trying to persuade voters that it is they who will secure the US position as the world's anointed beacon.

For their part, incumbents speak of the country as, indeed, the chosen nation, but also as a country that is moving along well, thanks to themselves. "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," President Barack Obama said in his 2012 State of the Union address.

There is also something divine about the way sitting US presidents discuss the relocation of US jobs. That is, manufacturing jobs belong to Americans because of something ordained in the heavens, and work that has flooded overseas must return to its rightful home. "What's at stake aren't Democratic values or Republican values," Mr Obama said in his January speech, "but American values ... Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores." Sitting chiefs caution voters against electing their opponent because the other party would invariably get the US demoted from its seat at the head of nations.

King Abdullah II insists that his Hashemite family, as descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, must alone control Jordan's throne. More than half a century after usurping the West Bank, Israeli governments still impose settlements in the disputed territory, as some Israelis are certain that God gave them the land thousands of years ago.

In the US version of heavenly designation, after establishing that the United States is predestined to remain the world's most powerful country, presidential challengers then move to complain that the incumbent is weakening God's plan. The incumbent, in this narrative, is said to be driving the greatest nation on earth into the bog.

"The proudest man of all, the philosopher, believes he sees the eyes of the universe focused telescopically from all directions upon his actions and thoughts," Friedrich Nietzsche wrote.

The US has been a global standard-bearer in some ways, but this is changeable. "Among the world's democracies," for example, legal scholars David Law and Mila Versteeg write in a forthcoming article for The New York University Law Review, "constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall. Over the 1960s and 1970s, democratic constitutions as a whole became more similar to the US Constitution, only to reverse course in the 1980s and 1990s."

Ultimately, Americans should simply be glad that their votes are counted and have meaning, while also not weeping that their world is collapsing if one's favoured candidate is sent to the rostrum for a concession speech. The United States has been the most powerful and economically successful country on earth for the better part of a century, and at some point in the future, it is very possible that this will no longer be the case. Every single uncontested world power in history eventually became a contested, former world power, and I'm not the least bit convinced that the United States is the lone, eternal exception.

I'm not a self-hating American. I'm an American who sleeps better in an age of thundering global competition.

Dr Justin D Martin is a professor at the University of Maine and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review.

On Twitter: @Justin_D_Martin