OK, what is it?
Marco Rubio talks about it. New Gingrich proclaims it. Barack Obama’s not so sure.
Wikipedia, the online super encyclopedia, has a big article on the subject.
The bottom line is that, like all other “isms” American Exceptionalism is a belief, the espousal of an idea or opinion.
And that opinion is essentially that America and Americans are somehow exceptional. Different in a good way. Better than the rest. Outstanding among the nations and the peoples of the world.
Pretty heady stuff.
President Obama agrees. Sort of. He says, sure we Americans are better than other folks and our country is better than all the other countries.
But that’s just our opinion. Everybody else has a similar opinion about themselves. Greeks love Greece. Irish love Ireland, Spaniards think that Spain is the best place on earth.
American Exceptionalism, according to our President, is just our name for national chauvinism. Home team spirit.
The Founders of our nation had a different view. They understood that enacting a written constitution was something new and different. Listen to Alexander Hamilton:
“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and their example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government by reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
George Washington said that Americans are “actors in a most conspicuous theater, which seems to be peculiarly designed by Providence for the display of human greatness”
They knew that the eyes of the whole world were focused on what they were doing in Philadelphia in 1787. In short they knew that the American constitution would be an exception. Something new. Unique. The first. The only.
And they knew that the American people who did it were special. Different. Exceptions to the general rule. Not just ordinary folks.
In the 200 years since our constitution was adopted, many other countries have framed charters of their own. Some have borrowed from us. The idea of three branches of government; executive, legislative and judicial. A bills of rights.
Good ideas. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
But in truth, America is still exceptional. No other nation on earth consists of separate, sovereign states. Americans enjoy dual citizenship. We are Texans, Floridians, Georgians, Californians.
Our states are guaranteed to have a republican form of government. Tallahassee, Lansing, Columbus and Madison have more to say about our lives than Washington, D.C.
There is no single American nationality. We have 50 different cultures. Different accents. Different economies. Different weather. Different histories, religions, politics and ethnic origins. We eat different food. Cheer for different teams.
What people do for fun in San Francisco or New Orleans might not play so well in Oklahoma City or Birmingham.
There are states full of old people and states where the people are young. East coast. West Coast. Sun Belt. Rust Belt. Bible Belt. Take your choice.
Americans can live in any state. Be citizens of any state. Like no other people in the world, we have both personal and political freedom. This is indeed an exceptional country. And we are exceptionally lucky to be in it.