Once in love with Amy, and America

Word that Amy Gutmann soon would be named our ambassador to Germany rang my American chimes in several ways. I got a little verklempt. (Yiddish for emotional).

Penn President Amy Gutmann (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

Not because she is the president of the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve always said that’s a great school to attend if you can’t get into Temple. 😄

No, the thing that’s giving me shivers is that her father, a Jew, had the spidey sense to flee his native Germany before the Nazis got rolling and locked in the Jewish population, in order to exterminate them. (Albert Einstein was another Jew who escaped.)

So Amy, now 71, won the birth lottery and was born in America, which was her family’s salvation, despite the open anti-Semitism that existed at the time.

She became the first member of her family to graduate from college, earned her Ph.D. at Harvard, became Penn’s second woman president and the longest-tenured chief executive of Philadelphia’s largest employer.

And now, after her appointment, this Jewish woman will represent America, the nation that saved her family,  to the government that succeeded one, the Nazis, that would have killed them. The sweet irony.

There are several morals to this story.

Germany today is not the Germany of 80 years ago — far from it — and should not bear the blame for the sins and crimes of their grandparents and great-grandparents. No reasonable person would do that.

If I have to spell it out for you, that means no reasonable person would hold today’s Americans responsible for slavery. 

As the daughter of an immigrant, a minority, and a woman, Gutmann rose to unparalleled heights. Her American story is unusual, but not unique, and brings to mind a quote by another minority overachiever by the name of Barack Obama: “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

This is what we mean by American exceptionalism. 

The German chancellor will welcome Gutmann with open arms, and probably a hug, to reflect the closeness between two powerful nations that are more than allies. We are close friends.

And we are friends because after America defeated Germany, we planted and tended her fledgling democracy, and provided welfare for her people and seed money for her economic recovery. No victor had ever been so generous.

Another example of American exceptionalism.

Of course, we had smarter leaders then and a more united citizenry.

None of this story is a myth, as some despicables claim about American exceptionalism. Every word is true and makes me proud to be an American, and safe to be a Jew. 

20 thoughts on “Once in love with Amy, and America”

  1. Is this tongue in cheek? She is Pres of a Univ and flag bearer of a system of thinking that believes America is rotten to the core.

      1. d’accord-I’ve known many academics, not just in college, albeit none from Penn-and none have given me any indication that they think USA rotten to the core…..just another stereotype….there are always exceptions….the kooks just get more ink

        1. So true — the fringe gets the attention. I have been guilty of that myself, with my recent column on the white aca dimwit who thinks whites are parasites. As I said at the time, ridicule is the best response.

  2. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    Be careful of the phrase “American exceptionalism.” You do give it a clear meaning by examples. Still it is a controversial phrase of many contrasting and contested uses–chiefly political.

    One basic use has been in a proposed explanation of why socialism has never had much of an appeal in this country. So, if the appeal of socialism has recently increased in this country, does this mean that “American exceptionalism” has been on the decline? If so, why would that be so? Of course, “American exceptionalism” has long been a thorn in the side of classical Marxist theory, according to which the most “advanced” capitalist countries should be the first to undergo a Marxist revolution of the poor, the displaced and the dispossessed. In fact, Marxist revolution has had the most appeal in less “advanced” countries. But maybe we have more of the poor, the displaced and the dispossessed of late?

    I’d say that what has made the U.S. “exceptionally” tolerant of minorities is that, unlike most European countries, we have no official, national ethnic identity.” National ethnic mono-cultures make for rigid class systems, and vehement, “revolutionary” opposition. Recall that Marx himself was a German philosopher.

    So far as I’ve heard, Amy Gutmann is yet to be nominate for the position of Ambassador to Germany. (If nominated by the President, she would have to be approved by the Senate.) To this point, so far as I know, the White House has circulated the idea (“run the flag up the flagpole to see who salutes”), which is itself, of course, quite an honor for President Gutmann and the University of Pennsylvania. I believe she has a very positive reputation.

    I’m afraid, though, that as Ambassador, she would likely see only the sunny side of Germany and the sunny side of Europe generally. She would surely be much honored over there and treated well. Germany is a friend and NATO ally of this country and more committed to NATO than some other European countries we could mention. But I recall a dictum of Alexander Hamilton’s to the effect that countries don’t really have “friends” –only “interests.” In political terms, Germany combines a strong, “West orientation” and NATO commitment (from the Conservatives), with sometimes fearsome anti-Americanism on the political left. Americans of “elite” standing are rarely exposed to the darker aspects of German politics. That is part of the reason for Germany to prefer Americans of elite standing.

    Germany is more set on further globalization than is the general sentiment in this country. They have been friendlier with China. We begin to suspect that more globalization means, for us in the U.S., ever more growth of domestic economic inequalities, ever more domination of the elites of the cosmopolitan coasts, further “export” of domestic manufacturing, and further political divisiveness and dysfunction?

    From that perspective, maybe we would do better to send over, say, a former (Democratic) Governor of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio or Illinois? Just a thought, but Governor Wolf comes to mind.

    H.G. Callaway

    1. She has been nominated by President Biden. While all nations have interests, in my view, Germany is a friend. There is a large handful of other friends, in addition to transactional allies.

      1. Philadelphia, PA

        Dear Stu,

        You may be surprised at just how “transactional” Germany can be. “Friends” among countries are chiefly transactional friends, like “friends” in business. It’s not a matter of the “friend” who is “another self.” There is a serious cultural-political barrier. Its no accident that Marx was a German philosopher. Recall that the German left is chiefly anti-American.

        You are right that “all nations have interests.” My concern is that we have a coherent understanding of American interests in contrast with the interests of globalizing international elites –inclined to make mutually beneficial deals at the expense of the ordinary American people. Have we reached the point where large-scale “domestic” economic and institutional interests see little point in loyally supporting the American republic –in contrast with the foreign competitors?

        H.G. Callaway

  3. If used in the context of a Jewish success story then I join in your acknowledgment of this nomination to being our Ambassador to Germany. However at a time when Critical Race Theory is being mandated in many of our higher educational institutions with the K-12 grades next to implement this program then I have to question her support of CRT and explanation. In the school of Social Policy, they are to look to the insights developed by CRT that can guide future research and advocacy. And in the Department of English at U.of P. is course; Critical Race Theory 765,401 which teaches the students to rethink the political and aesthetic limits of some key concepts attached to myths of U.S. exceptionalism, colorblindness, property, citizenship, sovereignty, privacy, and intimacy. We will also pay special attention to the political and the psychic economy of law by focusing on reparations and transitional justice as well as psychoanalytic theory. (I have no clue what that means.) Penn State is seeking an Assistant Dean for Access and Equity for the College of Arts and Architecture to reflect on Anti-Black Police Brutality and Popular uprisings. While our representatives in Harrisburg have introduced HB 1532 to ban critical race and gender theory in education in Pennsylvania school districts. Sadly the Bill to me is overkill and casts light on Government interference in the school curriculum. The middle ground must come from those who supply the funding for our schools the taxpayers who should have some say on just what their kids are being taught and where does their money goes. Again my congratulations on the appointment but the Senate has an obligation to question her input and approval of CRT.

  4. My Christian heart swells with pride for Amy Gutmann and all Jews who love this country. She is a remarkable woman, and this latest position to which she has been nominated is well deserved and a great move for our nation.

    first: How come I don’t look that good at my age ?!?
    Mixed feelings here. My better half has known Ms Gutmann for her time at Penn. And vice versa. Professionally, they accomplished quite a bit for Penn, in turn Philly and PA. Pam being ‘Tea Party” from the git go, and Amy obviously NOT, made sure that they were more than cordial, but never bosom buddies. Then, topping that off. There was a constant flow of dimocrats in and out of Pam’s office. Marjorie Margolies will never get a Christmas card from us. Same for joe what’s his name.
    I do know that Ms Gutmann was/is a heck of a saleswomen. She put Penn on the map. How she is in der father land is another mystery. Keep in mind. Most Ambassadors are just the pretty face of the embassy. The team knows the work and gets it done, while the Ambassador smoozes.
    With due respect, GOOD LUCK .

    1. Hiring Biden when he was VP was a prestigious “get” for Penn. He got $900,000, Amy gets a title, that’s the way things are.
      Saleswoman? That is what diplomacy is.

      1. Philadelphia, PA

        Dear Stu,

        If diplomacy is is just salesmanship, then it still seems to me that we may need someone as Ambassador in Germany who can “sell” the case of ordinary people in this country who have had their jobs shipped out from under them. But include as well all those who have fought and paid for various unending wars –trying and failing to control the chaotic international system. We have been paying quite heavily for the prospective ideal of an integrated world economic system, and those policies have often failed and fallen heavily on ordinary Americans–while the international economic and political elites chiefly benefit.

        Keeping NATO and the E.U. together is a primary German policy aim –and I agree with that. But the E.U. is primarily an economic union, and its politics is heavily weakened by its internal ethnic nationalisms. They have gone from the goal of “ever closer union” to a “community of fatherlands.” All the while, though, they have enjoyed growing peace and prosperity –in the E.U. heartland. Are we going to get more job and manufacturing exports from the U.S. and more duties as “world policeman”? Expanding its international trade is also a primary German interest. There have been times in recent years when German exports, and its balance of trade, have run ahead of China’s.

        Why is it exactly, that we don’t expect a course at university on “American exceptionalism”? Why is it that even simple civics is so infrequently taught? Why is it exactly that American conservatives have so often been run out of the universities on suspicion of “political incorrectness”? Is all this just to be chalked up to “that’s the way things are”? –“To the victors go the spoils”?

        Why is it, again, that Philadelphia is the poorest of the 10 largest cities in the country? Something about a rigid self-interested establishment?

        I still think that a former Governor of a hard-hit state (including Governor Wolf, for instance) might make a better representative of the American people at the center of Europe. Apparently the nomination is now up to the Senate. As I say, Amy Gutmann is generally well though of –especially, of course, among those who have done the most to support her (public and private) fundraising and policies at Penn. I wouldn’t expect much dissent from all those who have been riding the globalizing economic roller-coaster.

        As Hamilton once put it, countries have “interests.” But what is the American interest at this juncture of events? I submit that the American interest is not to be identified with those of our current economic and institutional “victors.”

        H.G. Callaway

          1. You are still sucking Platt off, just like the old days…two Pricks in a Pod.

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