TO achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following:
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, ignore the first sacrament of a democracy and suspend the counting of ballots in a presidential election. Appoint the candidate of your choice as president.
If you’re the newly anointed president, react to a terrorist attack by invading a nonterrorist country. Despite the loss or disablement of untold numbers of lives, manage your war so that its results will be indeterminate.
Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.
Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.
Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.
By cutting taxes and raising wartime expenditures, deplete the national treasury so that Congress and state and municipal legislatures cut back on domestic services, ensuring that there will be less money for the education of the young, for government health programs, for the care of veterans, for the maintenance of roads and bridges, for free public libraries, and so forth.
Deregulate the banking industry so as to create a severe recession in which enormous numbers of people lose their homes and jobs.
Before you leave office add to the Supreme Court justices like the ones who awarded you the presidency.
If you’re one of the conservative majority of a refurbished Supreme Court, rule that corporations, no less than human beings, have the right under the First Amendment to express their political point of view. To come to this judgment, do not acknowledge that corporations lack the range of feelings or values that define what it is to be human. That humans can act against their own interest, whereas corporations cannot act otherwise than in their own interest. That the corporation’s only purpose is to produce wealth, regardless of social consequences.
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This decision of the court will ensure tremendous infusions of corporate money into the political process and lead to the election in national and state legislatures of majorities of de facto corporate lobbyists.
Given corporate control of legislative bodies, enact laws to the benefit of corporate interests. For example, those laws sponsored by weapons manufacturers wherein people may carry concealed weapons and shoot and kill anyone by whom they feel threatened.
Give the running of state prisons over to private corporations whose profits increase with the increase in inmate populations. See to it that a majority of prisoners are African-American.
When possible, treat immigrants as criminals.
Deplete and underfinance a viable system of free public schools and give the education of children over to private for-profit corporations.
Make college education unaffordable.
Inject religious precepts into public policy so as to control women’s bodies.
Enact laws prohibiting collective bargaining. Portray trade unions as un-American.
Enact laws restricting the voting rights of possibly unruly constituencies.
Propagandize against scientific facts that would affect corporate profits. Portray global warming as a conspiracy of scientists.
Having subverted the Constitution and enervated the nation with these measures, portray the federal government as unwieldy, bumbling and shot through with elitist liberals. Create mental states of maladaptive populism among the citizenry to support this view.
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, decide that the police of any and all cities and towns and villages have the absolute authority to strip-search any person whom they, for whatever reason, put under arrest.
With this ruling, the reduction of America to unexceptionalism is complete.
E. L. Doctorow is the author, most recently of the novel “Homer and Langley.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 29, 2012, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Unexceptionalism: A Primer.
From April 30 to May 6, 100 writers from 25 countries will be in New York for a festival sponsored by the PEN American Center. As part of the festival, A. O. Scott, a critic for The New York Times, will talk with the writers Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood and E. L. Doctorow at a Times Talk event on May 2, co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada in New York. We asked those three writers — Ms. Atwood from Canada, Mr. Amis from Britain and Mr. Doctorow from the United States — to consider the question of America and its role in global political culture. Here are their answers.