Unable to comprehend history, a good many people take the notion of American exceptionalism and turn into something mystical. It is nothing of the sort. In fact, the phrase is so abused that it probably should just be dropped from the vocabulary of intelligent conversation.
Idiots believe that American exceptionalism lies in some inherent quality of Americanness. For this reason, many of them oppose immigration, believing that the values of the founders of the Republic have been passed on to those who trace their roots back to colonial times.
Morons believe that there is nothing exceptional about America and to assert that is to be “racist” in that flabby general sense of arrogance young people use the word now. Many years ago, cultural anthropologists established the concept of cultural relativism. It stated that each culture is designed to serve the needs of its members. Morons took that to mean that there are no distinctions to be made between the creations and institutions of various socieities e.g. slavery is equal to civic equality.
Those attacking relativism distorted it, too, losing the part about being suitable to its members and arguing that cultural relativists and their current incarnations, the multiculturalists, want us all to be reduced to a global village similar to a village in Zimbabwe. The attacks on multiculturalists are silly and reflect the European use of the term to mean institutional equality i.e. sharia law with Western legal institutions based on constitutional liberties and rights. U.S. politicians have had a field day with that one, claiming that strong movements to establish sharia law in middle America exist and must be fought (send money).
The only thing that makes America stand out, exceptional, if you will, is its institutions. Despite a great debt owed to English and general Western European ideas and ideals, we were able to engage in some very creative work at our founding. Even so, without the institutions established by custom throughout the colonial period, we would not have come up with the Constitution and government we did.
It’s really time for us to get over knee-jerk reactions. For instance, I’m as liberal as they come – Roosevelt was still president when I was born – and I’m flying a flag – yes, an American flag – today. That doesn’t make me a right-wing fanatic any more than living in Arizona most of my life makes me conservative. I applauded those who flew North Vietnamese flags as a protest against the war, not being so stupid as to think they really wanted North Vietnam to conquer America any more than I think a politician wearing an American flag lapel pin makes him a tea-partier or KKK member. People just have to grow up.
So we are exceptional but only because we did some very hard work: we worked out principles that were very radical at the time e.g. separation of church and state, which many Americans oppose; we then set to work realizing those principles in reality, from abolitionism and the Civil War through women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. Now we are faced with a massive immigration from one country in particular that is changing the faces of many American communities. We can deal with that just as we dealt with the old ladies in black speaking in furrin’ tongues in my little Ohio hometown in the 40s. We do it through our institutions like public education.
Or we can turn our backs on our heritage and hand the country over to the wealthy while the rest of us go Third World.