After coming across a group of (older generation) Europeans skinny-dipping in a semi-secluded national park pond, my friend thought to himself, “That is why I love Americans.”
From our sense of modesty, to the democratic experiment resulting in the U.S. Constitution, all of us have our reasons for feeling patriotic. We have much in the United States, both significant and less so, to be proud of. But as the truism goes “Pride goeth before the fall.”
Some try to attribute the idea of “American exceptionalism” to Alexis de Tocqueville — though he never penned the phrase. The idiom was first created and used by neo-conservative pundits soon after WWII.
It is meant to invoke the idea that America is a blessed nation created by God and (here’s the rub) therefore privileged in what actions it can take around the world. Thus, because of our heritage and unique position in world history, we are above the law of nations.
The conservative-leaning Republican Party — and more particularly the neo-con wing of the party — is particularly susceptible to this so-called patriotic concept, which has infected the party with full force.
For example, this summer Matt Lewis, a conservative political Pundit on MSNBC attacked Barack Obama for saying this, and I quote: “Any world order that elevates one nation above another will fall flat.” In response Lewis stated:
“I think that goes against the idea of American exceptionalism…most Americans believe that America was gifted by God and is a blessed nation and therefore we are better.”
America is a blessed nation, freer and more prosperous than many others, but as a great Nazarene once said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
If Americans see themselves as “better” or above others then we run the risk of following after Alexander’s Greece and Ceasar’s Rome.
However, that is not to say that American ideals are not great. The idea of America, even the word itself, is synonymous with liberty and freedom.
But the ideal does not make the idealist better than others. To put one nation above any other does not put it under God.
At a recent Republican fundraiser Newt Gingrich said, “I am not a citizen of the world, I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous!”
This neo-con campaign to put nationality above humanity does not sit well, particularly with America’s younger generations. Like it or not, generations “X” and “Y” have been raised in an increasingly global world.
And though the phrase “global world” seems redundant to some, major international events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tienanman Square, the Iraq wars, Balkan wars, September 11th and major disasters like the Tsunami in Indonesia — to name just some — have forced these generations out of a national-centric worldview.
Combine that with the very-American ethic that “all men are created equal” and subsequently the concept of American exceptionalism clashes with the values of these generations.
Consequently, Republican leadership, like Gingrich, Hannity, and Limbaugh, are increasingly losing ground with people who have a world-centric point of view, especially the younger two generations. Even Ronald Reagan famously said, “I come to you not only as a citizen of America but as a citizen of the world”.
To boot, the voting patterns that are being developed now may count the Republican Party out of power for a long time. Some think the recent success of Democrats may be short-lived, but if you look at political trends over the history of the United States these head winds may last for some time.
Let’s look at this historically: After the Federalists (one of the original Political Parties in the U.S.) won the first three presidential elections with George Washington and John Adams, the Democrats won the next ten in a row from 1800 to 1840. Then, after twenty years of elections going back and forth, the Republicans (previously the Federalists and then the Whigs) won the subsequent 9 out of 12 presidential elections from 1860 to 1912.
Again after another period of elections going back and forth from Wilson to Hoover the Democrats began to win again, taking the next 8 out of 10 from 1932 to 1968. And again Republicans took hold of power from 1968 to 2008 taking then next 7 out of 10 presidential elections — and they may have been even more dominant if not for the scandals of Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Each of these party dominant periods shows that the ascendant party wins at least seventy percent of presidential elections for about forty to fifty years, a period of one to two generations being born. If Democrats have started a new trend in their favor, or if Republicans continue to alienate the younger populace, we will likely see the DNC in power for some time; voted in again and again by generation X and Y.
American exceptionalism — the kind that degenerates into arrogant nationalism and similar in practice to the Divine Right of Kings — is un-American and only creates enemies and mockers the world over. Its purpose is at best to justify whatever actions we want to take around the world, and at worst it is dishonoring our heritage and smacks of jingoism.
All Americans, not just the neo-cons, must reject this thinking. We must take the advice of the proxy American founder, Charles de Montesquieu, who said,
“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”
Adam Hailstone is a graduate of and Associate Mentor with George Wythe University. A popular speaker, Adam has lectured across the United States and Canada on topics from liberal arts to global politics.
He is a small business owner in Cedar City, Utah. He is a hiking, canyoneering and bungee jumping enthusiast and loves reading the great author Victor Hugo. He is married to a beautiful, talented and strong woman; the former Laura Jensen.