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Is America Exceptional?

Originally published in the Laurel-Leader Call on July 2, 2021

Tomorrow is Independence Day, America’s favorite day for backyard barbeques, baseball, and fireworks. But it’s also a day for patriotism and celebrating all that makes America exceptional.

A few years ago, President Obama got in hot water for saying that America is exceptional to Americans, but people in other countries probably view their countries as exceptional too. More recently, then presidential candidate Trump similarly rejected the idea of American Exceptionalism, saying that it isn’t very nice to other countries.

I think both Obama and Trump were conflating patriotism with American Exceptionalism, which are very different things. Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman, was the first to use the word “exceptional” in his book Democracy in America, and he wasn’t talking about love of country or whether America is more special than France. De Tocqueville was celebrating the uniqueness of America’s founding, that unlike every other country established because of geography, wars, or nationality, America was founded on an idea. As Lincoln put it, we were, “Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” That certainly makes us exceptional the world over.

That exceptional founding created the most free and powerful nation on the planet, and we’ve used our power for good across the globe. We helped to free the world from tyranny and genocide during World War II. Americans rush into disaster zones with food, water, and medical teams following natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the Indonesian tsunami of 2004. And this past year, Operation Warp Speed and our American drug companies produced three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that have saved millions of lives across the globe. America is most certainly exceptional.

But saying America is exceptional doesn’t automatically mean we are perfect. It’s currently in vogue to dwell at length on America’s original sin of slavery, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Self-reflection and humility is good for people and nations. Slavery and Jim Crow were a terrible black spot on our nation, and in many ways, we’re

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