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  •  This is what I replied to you when you posted (5+ / 0-)

    that question.

    American Exceptionalism means different things to different people.  By some meanings, I would have to say that yes, I am an "American Exceptionalist."  By others, definitely not.

    Madeleine Albright called the USA "the indispensable country" in world affairs.  This is meant in the best way: when events in the world are spinning out of control, ours is the only nation with both the weight and the inclination to force action.  Obama's famous (or infamous) "lead from behind" strategy in Libya is a good example, though she was speaking more in the Bosnian context. While the European NATO countries were capable of taking independent action as Qadaffi's massacring forces approached Benghazi, no action would have happened without America deciding to be a part.  For a horrific parallel outcome, see Rwanda.

    But to the meaning:  For some, it means a God-appointed nation of destiny in the world.  This is often short-handed by reference to Winthrop's famous 1630 sermon aboard the the Puritan ship Arabella, that the New England experiment will be "as a city on a hill" for mankind to look up to; but that woe will become us if we deal falsely with our promise (famously restated as vision of new conservatism by Ronald Reagan). From a less overtly religious tone, we can go back 10 years earlier to the Mayflower Compact, to the pledge among the settlers to work together for a common purpose.

    Another way of looking at the concept of American Exceptionalism is through our roots as the great, lasting political experiment of the The Enlightenment.  Founded on virtuous values, many Americans believe that our values are in fact universal: self-government, a government purposed with protecting Natural Rights, religious tolerance, free speech, due process, etc. - ideals we hope are evinced in our land, and that we generally believe are the birthright of all people.

    Still another lens through which to appreciate the idea is the sheer good fortune of our nation.  Founded by a kingdom that already believed in some inherent rights (unlike the absolute monarchies of Spain, France, or Portugal), spanning a vast landscape of limitless wealth, and protected by two oceans, we are uniquely capable of making our own way in the world.  Add to this a population from all corners of the world, and whether you believe in literal "exceptionalism" or not, we are most certainly different.

    The fact that any one of these points can be used to highlight our historical evils (we hardly had the "good fortune" to "discover" an empty land, and our "universal values" obviously did not pertain to slaves, to women - or, even, to this day, to gay Americans) not only highlights our hypocrisy but the beauty of being in a country where acts of evil or displays of oppression ARE hypocritical.  That's an exceptionally powerful concept.  If this concept does not make sense to you, let's compare two very different, absolute evils:  the Nazi holocaust and American slavery.  While very different, each is certainly evil incarnate; and yet, only slavery in the USA was hypocritical.  In this sense, American Exceptionalism is the opposite of denying our challenges and misdeeds; rather, it is what propels us to overthrow oppression in the very name of our country's best ideals.

    When Martin Luther King expressed his "Dream," he was standing in communication with the great figure of Lincoln seated behind him and referenced the high ideals of the Gettysburg Address, which itself referenced the high ideals of the nation's founding.  In America, those of us who fight for the continuing dream of social justice don't feel we're fighting against our country: we very, very strongly feel we are fighting FOR it, and use the language of our founding to make the point.

    Think of it this way: there's a "Hard" and a "Soft" vision of American Exceptionalism.  The "Hard" version gives us the right to act wherever and however we please in the rest of the world in defense of our self-interest - and its proponents may believe that this right devolves to us from God.  Obviously, it's a troubling view.

    The "Soft" version holds that our extraordinarily privileged station on the planet and our Constitution may well come with a sense of righteousness, but more importantly with a sense of responsibility in the world.  Our democracy, our wealth, and our might create a unique ability to act for the betterment of the world.  Again, the obvious violations of this idea from the Mexican War to Vietnam to Iraq to torture to segregation and so on and on are, well, obvious; but we can also create a list that includes the creation of most of the great movements for social justice in the past 150 years, the defeat of fascism, the creation of the United Nations, and lots more.

    Those of us - I do put myself in this camp - who do hold some "soft" idea of "American Exceptionalism" aren't deterred by our history, but spurred on by it, and believe that we must help our nation to be that unique force for a better world that we are capable of.

    If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. Thomas Paine

    by WestCider on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 07:49:19 AM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, your answer was very good (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave

      and informative. It made me think and reflect on that 'exceptionalism', wether the soft or hard version. Personally my vision on my country would go for a soft 'soft-approach', just between 'patriotic' and 'love for my country' ;-)

      Thank you again for your effort the enlighten me.

      'We're all flying backwards into the Future'

      by Upie on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 08:44:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Wow, taking enough credit? :Þ (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Upie, Major Kong, achronon, VTCC73, mythatsme

      " but we can also create a list that includes the creation of most of the great movements for social justice in the past 150 years, the defeat of fascism, the creation of the United Nations, and lots more."

      Really?  That was all America's doing?  

      Defeating the Nazis: No, by the numbers, the European Theater battle was "Germany vs. the Soviet Union, plus miscellaneous other participants".  Overwhelmingly the European Theater was those two combattants.  The Soviets alone lost as many soldiers just in the Battle of Kursk than the US lost in the entire European Theatre during all of World War II combined.  The hardware numbers are as staggeringly "Germany vs. the USSR" as the casualty numbers, too.

      Creating most of the great movements for social justice: Is that a joke or are you serious?  Really, of all the world's countries, America can take credit for their movements for social justice?  Just, wow.

      Creation of the United Nations: Well, Roosevelt came up with the name, but the intent of its creation was multilateral.  The concept was discussed in the Moscow and Tehran conferences by the Allies during WWII.  The primary structure was laid out by negotiators from China, the UK, the USSR, and the US in the Dumbarton Oaks conference.  They were refined at the Yalta conference.  50 nations then met to organize the details, with all of the security council countries having to sign off on it (of which the US was just one of five) and at least half of the other nations.

    •  There is every reason for Americans to be afraid (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Upie, gffish, lotlizard

      and for other countries to be afraid of America too.  We were once a friendly and generous land which welcomed immigrants (except Irish Catholics, Asians, and whomever else we were blaming for our self-induced ills at the time).  We have become narrow-minded, often cruel, and extremely violent against immigrants and often innocent children.  We are armed to the teeth as a government and as individuals, and we seem to be willing to use weapons against our next-door neighbor as well as countries who get in the way of corporate free-market fanatics anywhere in the world.

      We have no inherent privileged station in the world except for that which we give ourselves.  Our sense of righteousness is just self-righteousness.  We may say we act for the betterment of the world, when we really act for the bankers and corporations.  Monied interests have dominated American foreign military policy since the end of World War II.  The danger is the every growing move toward becoming a fascist country in which the corporate and political sectors merge under the guise of a fanatic nationalism.

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