As tiresome as it is, this idea that Barack Obama, of all people, is not an adherent of American exceptionalism is strangely popular. Perhaps it helps some people sleep better at night–I don’t get it. Have these people already forgotten Obama’s Inaugural Address, which even Bill Kristol admitted was “unabashedly pro-American”? Maybe they haven’t, but they hope that you have. Here is Mark Davis in The Dallas Morning News:
Where is the curriculum that teaches that beyond our flaws, we have been the greatest society the world has known? We have built that legacy with a devotion to liberty and leadership unmatched in modern times. Yet we are led today by people who see the United States as merely the name between Ukraine and Uruguay on the United Nations lobby directory [bold mine-DL].
This other “curriculum” is force-fed to us daily, not least through op-eds, articles, books and talk shows that seem to tell us nothing else. Of course, it is also delivered to us in public speeches by the very politicians who are now being accused of lacking in exceptionalist zeal. Obama’s Inaugural is one example, and one could mine the archives of his campaign speeches for ridiculous flourishes of American exceptionalism, which is why I have always marveled at the easily disproven misrepresentation of Obama as anything other than an American exceptionalist.
Then again, compared to Mark Davis, who can be anything but a post-American tranzi wallowing in the mire of his own self-loathing? Consider Davis’ simply ridiculous declaration:
What we used to widely feel has been given a fitting name: American exceptionalism. It does not teach that we are without sin or that we cannot learn. It teaches that against the backdrop of history, no country has freed, fed or inspired more people than the United States. No nation has contributed more to science, culture or enlightened thought [bold mine-DL].
It is the last sentence that seems particularly galling, since our contributions to “science, culture and enlightened thought” have been by and large derivatives of European contributions, and for the most part our contributions have been built on the foundations laid by European nations. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t made a great many important contributions, but like the bizarre fetish of tallying up how many of our soldiers have died for the freedom of other nations there is something unseemly, gawdy and arrogant in this constant call for others to recognize how magnificent and preeminent we are. It is this insufferable insistence on being first, best and supreme in everything that so many people find irritating, and not only in other countries. If the patriot never boasts of the largeness of his country, what does that make the American exceptionalist who can never shut up about how absolutely gigantic and awesome his country is?
Davis is not done:
Today, that magnificent view is dismissed as tired jingoism.
No, tired jingoism is dismissed as tired jingoism. The trouble is that some people seem to think that unless one signs off on every aspect of the tired jingoism, one is therefore automatically opposed to American exceptionalism. There are good reasons to push back against the idea of American exceptionalism, if only because it does seem to encourage tired jingoism far too often, but we should do this mainly to show that there is the possibility of an admiring respect that need not devolve into arrogant triumphalism that American exceptionalism tends to encourage.
Of course, having defined American exceptionalism in such an excessive way, Davis has all but guaranteed that fewer and fewer people will be interested in it. Confidence in America and respect for our actual, genuinely considerable accomplishments as a people are natural and worthy attitudes to have. Understanding the full scope of our history, neither airbrushing out the crimes nor dishonoring and forgetting our heroes, is the proper tribute we owe to our country and our ancestors. Exaggeration and bluster betray a lack of confidence in America, and strangely this lack of confidence seems concentrated among those most certain that mostly imaginary “declinists” are ruining everything. More humble confidence and less horror that our President is not engaged in stupid demonstrations of machismo might be the appropriate response to present realities.
P.S. For a necessary dose of sanity, here is Andrew Bacevich on “the American century.”
Update: A quote from an old column by a Canadian writer seems appropriate here:
Now, I don’t want to answer dogma with dogma. Strategic and national interests played major roles in the decisions of all combatants in the First and Second World Wars. They do in every war. It’s a messy world and the motives of nations are seldom simple and pure.
The sort of Americans who cheer for Fred Thompson would agree with that statement — as it applies to other countries. What they cannot seem to accept is that it applies to their country, too. For them, Americans are unique. The United States is unique. And what sets America and Americans apart is purity of heart.
“We are proud of that heritage,” Thompson said in Iowa after citing the mythology of America-the-liberator. “I don’t think we have anything to apologize for.”
Nothing to apologize for. Never did anything wrong in 231 years of history. Nothing.
This is infantile. And dangerous. A superpower that believes it is pure of heart and the light of the world will inevitably rush in where angels fear to tread. And then it will find itself wondering why the foreigners it so selflessly helps hate it so.