American Exceptionalism: Is This a Great Country or What?

Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measure in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations. ~~ John Adams letter to William Cushing, June 9, 1776

I try to avoid writing about the political but from time to time it happens. Like most people I want to be liked. I want my words to bring smiles and pleasure. I want my stories bookmarked, remembered and my opinions respected. But I make no apologies about my occasional writings of the political kind. I just can’t help myself. Bad enough to hear it from outsiders but I get irked from time to time when I hear our own citizens tearing down our country. A lot has been said and written about American Exceptionalism, so time for me to write a little about it from my perspective, as well as an historical one.

I’m an American and to say the least I’m a proud American. It began as a boy listening mostly to my uncles talking about their experiences in World War Two. I had six uncles and most of them served, all with varying experiences, from a 17-year old Navy cook in the South Pacific’s New Caledonia to combat soldiers that saw the worst of it at Omaha Beach on D-Day and later crisscrossing Europe. I saw and heard first-hand how that struggle affected the lives of my aunts and uncles and their entire generation in ways incomprehensible to those of us who didn’t live during those times. They were different times indeed. Then my service in the Air Force shaped both my patriotism and forever changed my political perspective. Can’t imagine who I’d be — or even where I’d be — were it not for my experiences in the Air Force.

A blogger I follow wrote in  a September 2013 blog that “American exceptionalism is based on one thing — and that’s arrogance.” No,” I replied in a comment, “that’s nonsense!” American Exceptionalism is one of the most flagrantly misrepresented concepts and a skewed version is thoughtlessly and constantly reiterated as fact. But repeat a lie often enough and soon it is believed without question. 

The fact is, American Exceptionalism has never meant that Americans think themselves better than anyone else as it’s often portrayed. Nor does it mean that as a country we are without fault, and of course we’ve faced serious problems of our own. We have failed at times to represent the ideals we promote and to wisely wield the power we’ve earned. Sometimes, it’s true, we’ve not always been the land of the free and… we are never perfect. However there’s more to the American story.

What American exceptionalism does mean is that this country is exceptional because it’s different from all others in the history of mankind. It is a nation established on principles of freedom and individual liberty. Americans are the only people in history to proclaim to the world that the power to govern comes directly from God to each of us, and that’s what makes America truly unique, truly exceptional. Abraham Lincoln called it “a new birth of freedom” and we have defended liberty and freedom around the world at great cost and sacrifice in blood and treasure. As Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal wrote, “No nation has liberated more people or done more to raise living standards around the world through trade and charity than the United States. It is exceptional because it has long attempted to be a force for good in the world, it attempts to be a force for good because it is exceptional.” President Bill Clinton understood the concept saying, “America remains the indispensable nation … there are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression.”

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We Americans have grown up hearing that passage from our Declaration of Independence so often we take it for granted. Few of us appreciate the astounding, inspirational proclamation it was in 1776 and it’s impact on nations around the globe. Since then the United States has stood as a beacon of freedom and hope to the world to which many have been drawn throughout its 237 year history. It encourages individuals to be the best they can be, to make their lives better. It doesn’t hand it to them, but does provide exceptional opportunities to succeed, without enmity or class distinction. Millions of immigrants have ultimately realized those hopes and dreams. If not for themselves they saw it flourish in the lives of their children and grandchildren. British journalist Alistair Cooke wrote, “People, when they first come to America, whether as travelers or settlers, become aware of a new and agreeable feeling: that the whole country is their oyster.”

The Statue of Liberty still represents to those outside our borders their greatest hopes and imaginations. To them and those who have immigrated here America is exceptional. It is why people from all walks of life and every country in the world want desperately to be part of the American fabric. My country the United States is not the twisted and too often despised version it is said to be. Its enemies within and without can tear it down, demean it, distort its virtues as they will with all their trivia and pseudo-analytical judgments; but “American Exceptionalism” in truth is precisely why millions have come here and why millions more will aspire to do the same.

A little over two years ago to mark Veteran’s Day I wrote the following and it’s worthy of repeating here:

The [American] flag is a reminder to avoid compromise and to remain steadfast on the long road that has brought our country immense opportunity, prosperity and security….  No matter the headlines we see or the speeches we hear — and regardless of those who within our midst ridicule and say we’re not a perfect country, pointing out our every flaw… that may be so — but, we’re still the greatest nation on earth.

For those who believe the wide-spread anti-American sentiment, let us remember former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s words. When asked by a Parliament member why he believes so much in America, he said: “A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in… and how many want out.” For those who here despise it, you’re free to leave. For those millions like me who love and cherish it, despite all its flaws and blemishes, the truth makes us free.

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5 comments on “American Exceptionalism: Is This a Great Country or What?

  1. Ron Susek says:

    America is not exceptional because of innate greatness but as a gift from God. To play down her exceptionalism is to thumb one’s nose to the Giver of good and perfect gifts.

    But an exceptional gift from God is not for the benefit of the recipient. It is given to equip the recipient to serve others. And America has used her exceptional achievements that extend far more than money to lift many around the world.

    It is America that has sustained the Micronesian Islands since WWII. And that is the tip of the iceberg. I know, I’ve been around the world to see the wonder of the American footprint. It is never found imprinted on the backs of the oppressed.

    Now, the people of America, both young and old, have the rare opportunity to prove ourselves doubly exceptional by wrestling our biblically-based ideals out of the destructive hands of those who are placing the footprint of oppression on our backs. They hold out the wine glass of proven failure that has staggered so many nations. Time has distanced us from the tyranny we threw off in the revolution. Hopefully we will rise from our stupor and by flooding our political scene, our legal platforms, our educational institutions and our common streets with the drive of righteous freedom that coursed through our forefathers veins.

    Keep writing Rick, The pen is the mightiest weapon known to man. And you have a good aim.

  2. LeRoy W. Bloom says:

    I too am a proud American, or more properly a proud citizen of the United States of America. But to me, phrases like American Exceptionalism or Manifest Destiny tend to make our nation appear to be elitist. The ideas embodied in our constitution are what makes our country exceptional, but terms like American Exceptionalism, and Manifest Destiny have been used too often in the past to excuse actions by political leaders in this country that are at best overbearing, and at worst illegal or unconstitutional. The invasion of Mexico, the Spanish American War, Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq spring to my mind.

    I realize that my idea will be unpopular with the author of this blog, and the two who have so far responded. I suspect that I will also be vilified by later responders to this subject. But without a careful study of our constitution, how it was debated, and finally agreed upon, none can say that I am wrong in this, only that they disagree. Being able to disagree and state a contrary opinion is one of the hallmarks of our country. Believing as I do does not make a me a communist or a liberal, it only means that I hold a different opinion about these phrases and how they have been improperly used, even illegally used, in the face of our constitution to do things that should not have been done.

    Anyway Rick, glad to see that your blog and you are now back on a more regular basis.

  3. Right on Rick, BUT I’m afraid it’s to late to do anything about it. The America
    you paint is a thing of the past as has been proven by the last 10 or 20 years.
    It is a sad thing to contemplate what will become of the country in another 5 or
    10. 😦
    …Lew…

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