I found myself agreeing with the definitions of exceptionalism advanced by some of the RNC speakers. Marco Rubio summarized the exceptional nature of the American experiment.
“But America was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights. That power belongs to the people. That government exists to protect our rights and serve our interests. That we shouldn’t be trapped in the circumstances of our birth. That we should be free to go as far as our talents and work can take us.”
If we look back through history, most people have lived under despotic systems. America truly stands as unique – a rock of freedom and liberty smack dab in the middle of a raging river filled with kings, dictators and tyrants. Most people throughout human history have groaned under systems run by those who believed they alone possessed a divine right to rule. Most people have enjoyed only those rights graciously bequeathed by their betters.
We find American Exceptionalism in the words of the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We find American Exceptionalism in a Constitution creating a government with limited authority and delegated powers checked.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
We find American Exceptionalism in a Bill of Rights, protecting the people from an overreaching general government.
THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.
But when politicians start talking about American Exceptionalism, they all too often drive right off the tracks and begin talking about dominating the rest of the world. Take Condoleezza Rice in her RNC speech.
“Indeed that is the question of the moment, ‘where does America stand?’ When our friends and our foes alike do not know the answer to that question, clearly and unambiguously, the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer – we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them – we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom,” she said. “We cannot be reluctant to lead, and one cannot lead from behind.”
Really, what’s so exceptional about that? Hasn’t virtually every despotic tyrant who managed to accumulate enough power “led” and dominated the rest of the world? From Roman Caesars to Genghis Kahn, from Hitler to Stalin, Kings, dictators and warriors have built empires, lording over their neighbors through military power and economic coercion. Throughout history, nations have found ways to impose their will on others.
Not so exceptional.
Yes, America built a mighty military with massive warships and high-tech munitions. We can bomb nations into oblivion and dominate the airspace. We can demand concessions and impose devastating sanctions.
But might doesn’t make America great.
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