American Exceptionalism. If you have been following political rhetoric recently then you know that the phrase has been tossed around more than an Olive Garden salad. On one side you have the President referring to American Exceptionalism as the moral compass that we have as Americans to help our fellow Americans. On the other side you hear Newts and Mitts saying that American Exceptionalism is attributed to our great freedoms and prosperity.
Very soon I’ll be writing a two page paper on American Exceptionalism for my American Studies 200 class. I’ll post it in it’s entirety once I have finished, but I thought I would give a sneak peak as to my thoughts going in to the project.
Do I think America is exceptional? Yes. But not for either of the reasons stated by Conservatives and Liberals today. America is exceptional because of it’s potential.
At America’s founding, it was exceptional because it was the first and only nation at the time that was being ruled by the people, for the people, in a democratic republic. The idea that the people could rule themselves in the age of Imperialism seemed daft. However, democracy quickly established itself as a strong form of government in America (though some of that may be attributed to our nations vast natural wealth). In time other nations have followed America’s footsteps in finding a Democracy for themselves. Across Europe democracies sprung forth especially at the turn of this last century. They were able to see what worked well in America, and they looked at what didn’t work well in America. In that time we were becoming less and less the exceptional nation that we once were.
Now, many would look at the 1940’s and 50’s to say that we were still exceptional and that no normal nation at that time could have brought in the great material wealth that we acquired in that era. These people like to say that America’s great freedoms and traditions and hard workers were what made us so prosperous. Not so, these people seem to forget that the rest of the industrial world had been essentially wiped out by World War II. Many look to that era as evidence that Capitalist competition is what is best for America, but they forget that we really didn’t have any competition at that time.
As years passed the rest of the world recovered and America has seen what competition is really like. Underdogs like China become the real exception because instead of confining themselves to traditions they structured their economy for the future. We are no longer the exception in prosperity.
America was once the place where individuals could work their way up into comfort, that was exceptional. Today, however, the likelihood of an American moving up an income bracket is lower than in countries like Egypt. In terms of the American Dream, we are no longer the exception.
We like to think of ourselves as the freest nation on earth, but even that is no longer true. In European countries higher education is not a privilege, it is a right. Many of these nations will make sure that if you want to go back to school and start a new career path, that you always have that option open to you. That is not the case in America where a young person is lucky if they get four years of post-secondary education for a job they don’t want. We are no longer the exception in freedom.
Our founding fathers and traditionalists since have spent so much effort protecting the people from the government, that they lose sight of the fact that they need to protect the people from other people. America’s exceptionalism stems from the fact that we can correct the issues that caused us to lose our original exceptionalism. With efficient and effective regulations and laws America could be a place where your opportunities depend on how hard you work rather than how much money you have. It could be a place where getting sick does not put you out of your home. It could be a place where the income inequality is not crippling, and it could be a place where businesses and innovations flourish.
America is on the edge of greatness once more, but if we continue to miss the opportunities in favor of the old ways, we’ll never achieve our potential.