|The original star-spangled banner from the War of 1812|
[Note: This essay owes a great debt to the book, The Next American Nation, and its author, Michael Lind, whose brilliant and incisive exploration of Americanism has deeply informed and inspired the ideas expressed here.]
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Putin . . . is right that God creates all people equal, but what makes America exceptional is that it was the first country whose founding was rooted in the recognition of this important truth.
It does not mean that we're better people. And it does not mean that we're special, more qualified, smarter, any of that, than anybody else in the world. It doesn't mean that at all.
The US is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the US becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. Nothing like it had ever happened. That's American exceptionalism.The history of world is dictatorship, tyranny, subjugation . . . and then along came the United States of America.The sole reason for our exceptionalism: Limiting government and maintaining the primacy of the individual human being regardless of race, sex, creed . . . It's the primacy of the individual.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are an attempt to provide a political framework to facilitate God's will that each of us are born and remain free. Read the Founders and you can conclude nothing other than that.
I think that democratic peoples have a natural taste for freedom; left to themselves, they seek it, they love it, and they will see themselves parted from it only with sorrow. But for equality they have an ardent, insatiable, eternal, invincible passion; they want equality in freedom, and if they cannot get it, they still want it in slavery. They will tolerate poverty, enslavement, barbarism, but they will not tolerate aristocracy.
I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.
Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.
What makes us exceptional is what we used to have in situations like this, that was a moral authority. We had the moral authority because of what we stood for, and we stood for . . . the absolute primacy of the individual.