In many ways the Obama administration has been one long debate on American exceptionalism. And I think sometimes people are debating the wrong things. America has to be exceptional – American style democracy just has not worked anywhere else. Oh sure, there are a lot of democratic nations out there and some of them very good ones, but they are parliamentary democracies, and therefore, fundamentally different than our own democracy. And democracy has been tried and failed in many places too. Only here has it succeeded; surely that qualifies as exceptional.
“Why?” one is forced to ask. Most people when confronted with that question are quick to point out our relative geographic isolation and our abundance of land and natural resources. Those factors certainly helped, but I fail to see how they can account for all of it. There were people here before us that did not capitalize on those factors the way we did. One must conclude that what really makes the difference is Americans themselves. I do not think Americans are any more capable than anyone else, but I do think that in general we are more ambitious and less risk-averse than most.
Those are both characteristics rooted in faith – faith in ourselves, and when that fails, faith in a higher power. But faith is on the decline in our nation. Certainly everybody knows about the decline of religion (faith in a higher power), but I also think faith in ourselves is on the decline. We certainly think more of ourselves than we used to; we certainly think we are entitled to more than we used to, but we seem to have little faith in ourselves to obtain what we feel ourselves entitled to – we simply demand it. That’s not faith in ourselves, that’s faith in someone else to give it to us. If we are not careful here, we might be forced to conclude that faith in a higher power leads to faith in oneself.
That’s what I really hate about Obama and his denial of American Exceptionalism, he is not denying the nation is exceptional, he is denying that I am. But even more, he is denying that people far more capable and admirable than me are exceptional. I have been reflecting recently that perhaps the bravest most admirable people in American history were the runaway slaves that preceded the civil war. Little or no education, limited skills, limited or no access to capital, a fugitive for the rest of their lives – the runaway slave faced a life far more risky but barely improved from the one they left behind. That’s ambition – and there is something fundamentally and uniquely American about it.
But part of faith in oneself is that we should not need anyone to tell us we are exceptional; we should just know it. That does not mean we are jerks or braggadocios; we just know that humility includes an honest assessment of our capabilities as well as our failings. I refuse to let Obama or any of his sycophants tell me I am not exceptional. I’m full of flaws, and were my wife far less gracious than she is you could ask her about them, but I am also exceptional in a few ways too.
The key to making this nation great again is not who we elect president, it is us and who we choose to be, regardless of who leads the nation. And if we choose not to be exceptional, then no matter who we elect president, the nation will not be exceptional. On this day when we celebrate the founding of what has been an exceptional nation, I choose to be exceptional. I hope you will join me.