What is American Exceptionalism? I can go to a few sources to get a definition,
Liberal columnists like those at New York Magazine, Foreign Policy and The Nation present it as the notion that America has an inherent requirement to lead the world based on the superior nature of our people and our government. Using that definition, which I find deeply flawed, they then attack it and call it dangerous, foolish, and hegemonic.
but for the sake of this discussion I wish to go directly to the people who claim to hold the concept in great regard.
On The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s friend David Barton explained: “The concept of “American exceptionalism” comes from Tocqueville’s book and his observations of the justice system. People “had character back then,” David said. Although Europe was religious, faith “didn’t get down to the individual person.”
He’s not the only one to praise the concept. Steve Deace did so as recently as July 4th of this year:
Jefferson writes what essentially becomes the mission statement of American Exceptionalism: “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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
How about Breitbart, the web site that under the guidance of Steve Bannon became the proud home of the alt-right?
This is how a pundit of theirs, Sydney Williams, explained the term in 2013, shortly after Andrew’s death:
(O)n balance, America has been a force for good, and for that we should take pride. Those early Americans formed a government, limited in its powers and responsible to the people. It was based on the concept that we are all created equal, and were endowed with certain inalienable rights – granted, not by government, but by our creator.
Once the Founders completed writing the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin allegedly responded, in regard to a query as to what form of government had been created, “It is a republic, Madam, as long as you can keep it.” Our exceptionalism is based on all the above factors – geographical, political, cultural and ideological – that allowed the early pioneers to hew from a largely virgin frontier a new nation, under laws, not people. There is nothing exceptional about anyone of us individually. We are just lucky to be here, but with that good fortune goes a responsibility, to live up to the standards set two centuries ago – to try to keep those factors alive that made America exceptional.
Contrast that with how a pundit on the same site, Charles Hurt, explained the term in 2017:
Mr. Obama’s commitment to Defeat without Peace and America Last have been replaced by an era of American Exceptionalism. America’s Beacon of Hope shines brightly once again.
In Warsaw, Mr. Trump celebrated our warm friendship with the “soul of Europe.”
“You stood in solidarity against oppression, against a lawless secret police, against a cruel and wicked system that impoverished your cities and your souls,” he said. “And you won. Poland prevailed. Poland will always prevail.”
And this gem, which certainly went right over Mr. Obama’s head, but may as well have been aimed directly at the heart of Obamacare: “The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”
Gone is the eloquence… but people might make a similar argument comparing some of this site’s early editorials against those I write. More importantly, what is missing is the fact that at the time Trump was reading a speech, he was enacting policy specifically designed to deny people the right “to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies”. There was nothing nativist in the early piece. There is little of consequence in the later one, but there is an intentional effort to propagandize on behalf of nativist sentiments.
Think they’re alone in the turnaround? Let’s look at two columns from PJMedia, the first in 2012 and the second in 2019.
2012: Our exceptionalism is not genetic. We are an imperfect country. But our birth song, the Constitution, and our founding principles define liberty much differently than all other democratic republics throughout human history.
2019: “President Trump summarized American exceptionalism as “the spirit, daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love that built this country into the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.””
I could beat a dead exceptionalism by going to other prominent Republican sites. The fact remains that America is exceptional specifically because of its willingness to commit, as a nation, to key fundamental principles of liberty. No, the founders did not come up with them on their own; virtually every concept they embraced was originally penned by a great thinker or came from another nation’s law. But they were the first to create a nation specifically dedicated to those ideals, and by sticking to them and growing strong we were the rightful leader on the world stage… not a leader who would direct others, but simply a great example that others, if they were wise, would choose to follow.
We were, in the famous words of Reagan’s farewell speech, a shining city on a hill. We did not direct. We inspired, and we attracted, and we embraced.
That version of exceptionalism can never truly be killed, but it can be removed from the common rhetoric. It had already been redefined by Democrat punditry; now it has been unpersoned by the Republicans.
Remember Rush Limbaugh, back when he actually spoke about traditional conservative values? There are those who wonder what in the world they ever saw in him, now that he’s gone “full orange”. Here’s a clip of the man from 2013… long after he’d already gone into his salesman persona (note the plug for his Rush Revere book)… explaining the concept in basic, understandable terms.
His explanation here, particularly the part where he attacks political leaders for imprisoning those who were simply seeking the ability to be free, would never be presented today. Not by him, not by Beck and Barton, not by Deace, not by Brietbart, PJ Media, Red State, Daily Wire, Heritage Foundation, Imprimis magazine, any Salem Radio talk show or any of a few dozen other Republican, ex-conservative places. To do so would be to speak against the Trump administration in favor of our national history and our Constitution, and that is unacceptable.