American Exceptionalism and the Left

by Jeff Swanson

American Flags, Lubbock, Texas, TX

The left doesn’t like American exceptionalism. Whatever it is about that idea, the left ain’t buyin’ what the rest of us are sellin’.

In 2009, President Obama spoke about his belief in American exceptionalism, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism…”.

As far as logical fallacies go, this one is falsely analogous in that comparing these countries is not equal nor like one another. The President simply does not believe in American exceptionalism but saying so would a bad thing.

To define American exceptionalism, Dennis Prager stated, “The belief that America often knows better than the world what is right and wrong.”

This is a bold statement.

What could be true about the President’s equivocation argument; those other nations may believe in their own exceptionalism. Nothing wrong with national pride.  If you were to empirically compare these other nations to the achievements of the United States, there is really no comparison. What the United States achieved in the 200 plus years of existence as compared to the whole of human existence prior, it’s an astounding achievement of commerce, freedom and representative democracy.

Even at our most poor, there is still greater wealth than any other time on the worlds history.

So what’s the problem?

According to Stephen Walt writing about the Myths of American Exceptionalism, “The United States never conquered a vast overseas empire or caused millions to die through tyrannical blunders like China’s Great Leap Forward or Stalin’s forced collectivization. And given the vast power at its disposal for much of the past century, Washington could certainly have done much worse. But the record is clear: U.S. leaders have done what they thought they had to do when confronted by external dangers, and they paid scant attention to moral principles along the way. The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans; too bad it’s not true.”

Throughout the quoted article, Walt puts forth Myths but each with the caveat that ‘their is some truth to this’. Oddly, in trying to disprove American exceptionalism, he was required to except some of the truths. Walt’s argument is that America must be perfect.

Good luck with that.

French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, had often been credited with observing and describing American exceptionalism, also wrote on the flawed America “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

One of the flawed systems in America is the largely capitalist system our economy is based upon. The engine of both the nations growth as well as the worlds growth stems from this system.

Though venerable docu-hit specialist Michael Moore would not agree (a quote from his movie’ Capitalism, A Love Story’), “Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy.”

Though it would be easy to lament Moore’s exploitation of the very system he despises, it should be noted that he laughs last as a skilled propagandist.

Within the quote from the ‘Capitalism’ movie is something very telling about the lefts disdain of American exceptionalism; the concept that a system must be equally good for everyone. In stating his economic alternative, Moore’s moral requirement is, “That nothing is done without considering the ethical nature, no business decision is made without first asking the question, is this for the common good?”

The common good. Noble but impossible and really, a Pollyanna ideal. How, pray tell, does a business consider what is best? Moore supplants the common will of commerce with a subversion to his own morality.

While lamenting the healthcare, education and murder rate of the United States, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post said, “…the problem of the 21st century is the problem of culture, not just the infamous “culture of poverty” but what I would call the culture of smugness. The emblem of this culture is the term “American exceptionalism.” It has been adopted by the right to mean that America, alone among the nations, is beloved of God. Maybe so, but on some days it’s hard to tell.” Stating further, “The term “American exceptionalism” has been invoked by Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and, of course, Sarah Palin. I would throw in Michele Bachmann, since if she has not said it yet, she soon will because she says almost anything.”

There it is: He doesn’t like it because Republicans do.

Though the very things Cohen decries as a failure of exceptionalism can be arguably traced back to liberal policies. The education system has been made soft by liberal, feel good curricula or the murder rate by liberal policies of not fostering individual growth amongst the inner city.

At the crux of liberal disdain for American exceptionalism is the mirror effect of reflecting upon liberals the very policies they support as the cause for the failure of much that is flawed in our society.

It’s hard to believe in something you’ve essentially destroyed. Many liberals would vigorously disagree.

The fact remains that the United States has fostered more social policies, more safety nets and indentured more people to the government in the second half of its existence than it did in its first.

With expansion of economic dependence upon the government, fewer people feel compelled to achieve. This is not to say that our nation shouldn’t look out for those that cannot fend for themselves. However, without the impetus to grow and the freedom to do so without extensive intervention from the government, America will wallow in mediocrity.

Liberals despise American exceptionalism simply because it is antithetical to their political dogma. Equal results for all…otherwise know as egalitarianism.

If you are exceptional, you are not equal.

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2 thoughts on “American Exceptionalism and the Left

  1. “American exceptionalism” doesn’t exist. What we DID doesn’t make us exceptional, it makes us memorable. Look at Greece, they DID a lot of great things…would you now consider them “exceptional”?

    • Defining exceptional is admittedly subjective and not at all empirical. If you look at the denotative definition if exceptional; it’s rare, unusual, extraordinary. While the history of the United States is far from pristine, the type of accomplishments and sheer number of them are an exception as compared to other nations.

      Not that other nations achieved nothing but that the extent to which the United States has prospered and moreover, defined the nature of the planet, is hard not to define as exceptional.

      Clearly though, this is an opinion but based on a solid observation.

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