Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for American Exceptionalism

It's Thanksgiving eve and I had planned a post encouraging gratitude not only for America, but also for oft- maligned American Exceptionalism.  But I get up this morning, log on to The American Spectator, and find that Mark Tooley beat me to it.

Oh well, might I elaborate a bit anyway?

The Left has long been uncomfortable with, if not outright hostile to, any notion that even suggested the uniqueness of America.  President Obama's own publicly expressed ambivalence about American Exceptionalism is certainly not the first time the idea has been questioned.  (Although it is probably the first time such has been heard from a sitting US president.) But with this position, they are not only at odds with most of their fellow citizens, as Tooley points out, they are also guilty of a glaring inconsistency in their thinking.

A reflexive pride in one's self and one's own is not only natural and understandable, it is also critical to sound emotional health. The Left, which has lectured us for a couple of generations now about the importance of high self-esteem in individuals, forgets this point, however, when it comes to their country.  Here, it seems no amount of criticism is too much.  For them, serially confessing and atoning for sins real or imagined, current or more than two-hundred years old, serves a very useful public function.  It eliminates, or at least mitigates against an over-reaching national pride, or, as they like to say, the temptation to hubris.

Fair enough, I suppose, to a point.  As Tooley notes, and I would like to highlight, the appeal to, as opposed to the denial of, American Exceptionalism also serves a very important public function.  Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to cite just two examples, had precisely the exceptional nature of America in mind when they reminded us to seek "the better angels of our nature" and called the nation to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed."  Because we thought of ourselves as different, their appeals carried with them the potential to shame us.  Had we thought of our country as fundamentally the same as any other in human history, that shaming would have gained very little purchase on the soul of America.

Which leads to a related, but important point about the irony of the Left's position.  It is because the public still embraces American Exceptionalism, and apparently stubbornly so, that the Left's abiding challenge to it continues to have any resonance at all.  As soon as we, as a country, take the Left seriously and start thinking of our nation as no different, and no better, than any other, then we will begin to behave as such, and feel justified in doing so.  That sad day will ill-serve both ourselves and the world.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!        

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