Culture:The Demise of American Exceptionalism
April 27, 2010 | By Andy Rutledge
The United States of America is currently in the throes of a civil war of sorts. There are facets and nuances to this war, but the fundamental conflict is between those fighting to preserve liberty and those fighting to expand the scope and reach of unmitigated tyranny. The list of imperiled liberties, ideas, definitions, obligations, industries, societal mechanisms, and constitutional foundations is long and growing almost daily, but there’s something more. There’s a growing threat to that which these precious and imperiled things comprise. At stake is nothing less than American exceptionalism.
Sadly, some misunderstand this term or at least do not comprehend the fullness of what it means. Some mistake the word exceptionalism for greatness, but the one does not describe the other. Many nations are great, have been great, and will be great. Yet the United States of America is exceptional in the world. Too many people in the U.S. and elsewhere lack any tangible grasp of what American exceptionalism means and what it means to the world.
Here, I want to in some measure address this failing. For without American exceptionalism the world will become a comparatively dark place. Without American exceptionalism, human beings will be less than they are now and the world’s very definition of hope will change to mean less than it does now. Yes, American exceptionalism is an imperative responsibility we hold not just to ourselves, but to all peoples of the world.
The Exceptional Nation
The United States of America has since its founding been the exception in the world. Our nation stands alone in ways at which other nations can only marvel. Our society has long preserved individuals’ hope and opportunity to a degree that the rest of the world has never enjoyed. No nation on earth has at its core such righteous indignation and intolerance towards tyranny, combined with wise provisions for the preservation of individual liberty, as does the United States of America. Our Constitution recognizes and preserves individual liberty to a degree found nowhere else in human history, and in this respect our nation stands as the lone exception in the world.
This is American exceptionalism: the ways in which our nation represents the otherwise unthinkably just and moral exception to the examples set by other nations. The United States of America has long truly been that shining city on a hill—as described by Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy before him, and John Winthrop before him (in 1630). Yes, we have aspired to create, as Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount described, “…the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house…”
The United States of America is the lone exception in countless ways—some perhaps trivial, others mind-boggling. For instance, no nation in the history of human existence has shed so much of its own sons’ and daughters’ blood fighting to preserve and defend the freedom of peoples of other nations. Throughout history, we have rightly recognized that it is our responsibility to defend liberty worldwide, for those who possess the means have a moral responsibility to act in the face of evil.
When wise and responsible individuals have occupied the leadership of our nation, we have righteously criticized the tyranny we recognize elsewhere in the world and have brought liberating force to bear. And the world is a better place for it. Our force for good in the world has liberated millions upon millions of people from the crushing weight of tyranny. In this and so many other ways, we are the light of liberty the world looks toward. It is no exaggeration to observe that but for The United States of America, terrible powers of evil and chaos would exercise their malevolent will throughout the world on a daily basis.
Our nation was founded wisely in the grave suspicion of power; especially the power wielded by a government; and as such ours is exceptional among nations of the world. Our founding documents recognize and explicitly reference the fact that the rights of men are inherent; flowing directly from God, not from governments or rulers of men. Our rights are above the purview of mortal men. Our nation’s founding ideals explicitly reference the fact that government, no matter how benevolent, can confer no rights upon men and can only deprive men of their inherent, sovereign liberty. By the degree to which our nation’s founding ideals and documents recognize and make reference to these facts, the U.S. is again exceptional in the world and in human history.
In order to defend our nation, our culture, and our interests, we must achieve victory over enemies who threaten us. But we wage war to remove threats, not to invoke punitive vendettas or conquer. When our military might is required to bring war to another nation and we, by grave necessity, remove a tyrannical government, we do not then conquer and collect that nation into an empire. Instead we work to preserve that nation’s culture, we guide that nation in the rebuilding of just governance of its own making, and we provide financial, military, and social assistance during its ensuing struggle to regain health and sovereign structure. Other nations now exhibit similar behaviors as a direct result of our example. Such is the influence of our exceptionalism and the righteous might that stands behind it.
For all of these reasons and more, the United States of America stands alone in the world—unique and exceptional. Yes, “best” in many respects, but gloriously exceptional in nearly every respect.
Now, imagine our world without all of this; without the shining light of our nation’s example. Such a possibility should chill you to your core. Sadly, such a world may not be left merely to our imaginations for much longer. Our ongoing civil war poses the very real possibility that these and other facets of American exceptionalism will vanish. They are, in fact, vanishing at this moment—falling like dominos as the forces of tyranny work to reshape our nation, deny its heritage, and destroy its foundations.
The Expanding Reach of Tyranny in America
As astounding as it sounds, the demise of American exceptionalism is being scripted and choreographed by none other than our nation’s own leadership. The current administration is deliberately and systematically working to destroy the clearly-defined and historic safeguards against tyranny in our nation. Indeed our own President has in years past said that the Constitution is problematic in how it constrains government, says what the government must not do, and how it does not describe “what the federal government must do on your behalf.”
Those paying attention to current events and familiar with history can easily recognize what is to come and know precisely what the end-game is. With a history and tradition like ours, however, it should seem a simple matter to circumvent the indicated result of this track. Surprisingly, however, tyranny is growing apace in our country; encountering impotent resistance and being only lightly encumbered in its progress.
One might ask how, if our nation’s own founding documents and laws provide protections against such things, tyranny could take hold in the United States of America. How is it that a people with such deeply ingrained intolerance for tyranny could allow the components of their own liberty to be snatched away one after another? One must, in fact, ask these questions because tyranny is taking hold and our liberties are being taken from us right now.
The fundamental reason for these seemingly unlikely events being allowed to occur is that now, as at no time in history, the citizens of the United States are poorly armed to understand that they are being harmed when, as at no time in history, our leaders are destroying liberty on so many fronts. Few among us have more than a vague understanding of the Constitution of the United States. The vast majority of U.S. citizens are, therefore, not equipped to recognize clear violations of our sovereign, individual liberty and ill prepared to challenge our leaders when they, lying and inept, assure us that their actions are both just and Constitutional.
Taking direct and easy advantage of this situation, the effort to destroy the limits on government overreach is being cleverly prosecuted. As astute students of history, those fighting to impose incremental tyranny are doing so according to a historically-successful script. It goes something like this:
In order to destroy someone or something great you must first destroy its name. If you fail to do so, your success at destruction would only create a martyr. As history clearly shows, martyrs are often more powerful than the original ideas or mortals they replace; and a martyr cannot be directly defeated. History therefore also shows that clever tyrants expend much energy in first soiling and destroying the good names of those whom they seek to vanquish. Such is the case with the forces of tyranny in the United States of America today.
You will never hear President Obama or his generals or lieutenants cite American exceptionalism, except in their repeated apologies for it or with an accompanying admonishment against it. Though ours is the greatest, most benevolent nation on earth, the current U.S. administration has undertaken a campaign to soil the name and great deeds of our nation, redefine ideas and obfuscate the foundations of our rights. At the same time senior members of the Obama administration, even President Obama himself, continually offer undue, immoral, and highly dangerous deference toward our enemies. And when these tyrants and terrorists perpetrate clear violations against their own people or the world, the Obama administration fails to demonstrate any measure of moral courage to righteously condemn those acts.
This, however, is what one must do in order to destroy something as great as American exceptionalism. One must turn reality on its head and prosecute a campaign to redefine history, events, ideals, and rights until those lies take hold and indelibly stain the fabric of society, at home and worldwide. However, to assist with its campaign of lies this administration has at its disposal a powerful weapon—one that cannot easily be countered. One with Constitutional protections.
The “Free Press”
Our free press has ever been a shining component of American exceptionalism, but this part of our exceptionalism is, sadly, already dead. We are no longer exceptional in the world by how our press defends American society and our nation. At present, the American free press defends nothing so fiercely as the increasingly powerful government. The American free press is the first true casualty of this civil war.
Today, the free press ensures that the forces for tyranny operate free from responsible examination and under the comfortable cover of a well-articulated and intricately-crafted fog of war. Yet, by working in this manner members of the so-called free press utterly fail their mandate as acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution. The press, which was the entirety of the media at the time our founding documents were written, is the only industry mentioned in and protected by the Constitution, and for a specific reason.
You see, ours is a country founded in defiance of tyranny. Ours is a country founded in the very clear distrust of government. Our government is composed in such a way as to inhibit tyranny, but no government can ever be free from the possible rise of tyranny. Our founders and the citizens of our nation back then knew this fact well. Therefore, the press was constitutionally proclaimed free in order to protect the liberty of the citizens by holding the government’s feet to the fire; to expose the inner workings and discourage the hidden growth of tyranny. Today, however, the press is complicit in the expanding establishment of tyranny, and in direct contravention of its historical and constitutional mandate.
Today the free press seldom if ever undertakes or publishes any critical examinations of unconstitutional policies. Instead, it concentrates on the purported paranoia and supposedly misguided nature of those who oppose those policies. In this regard, press coverage is entirely one-sided—as it has been in a directly opposite fashion whenever a Republican administration holds office. The free press is today shamelessly, openly biased and entirely failing its constitutionally-mandated responsibilities to the direct detriment of our society. The press willfully and gleefully repeats and supports every lie and distortion the current administration puts forth and entirely ignores and distorts even the most conscientious efforts to correct the record or demand accountability.
Whenever a formidable individual steps forward to expose the folly and danger in any of this administration’s policies, the press ignores the content of that person’s message and the facts that support it, opting instead to initiate a full-court-press effort to assassinate that individual’s character, and otherwise characterize the person as a buffoon, or worse. The more respected, powerful, or engaging the individual, the more nasty and concentrated is the effort put forth by the press to shut them down. In this regard and in many others, the press now operates almost exclusively as watchdogs for the state, rather than their constitutionally-mandated role as watchdogs over the state and for the people. Rather than shine a light on the issues and the facts surrounding them, the press now obfuscate the facts and inhibit responsible examination and discussion of them.
In order to have a free society, we must have a free press. The current version of that free press—one operating as if State-controlled—is a dagger through our nation’s heart. Every day our culture and our nation become weaker for the constant dose of poison flowing from our press. The press has turned the world upside down and our vertigo increases each day. The result of these effects is that soon we will be so intoxicated and so informationally-feeble a nation as to be incapable of fending off any threat, from within or without.
The free press is dead. Long live the American free press. The shining light of American exceptionalism is now somewhat dimmed in the world. Hope has diminished and the world is a darker place for it. Score one for the forces of tyranny.
The Engine of American Exceptionalism
The United States of America built the most exceptional society on earth because its people were allowed an unprecedented degree of individual liberty. Free from government interference, our people were free to work to realize any dream and achieve any level of success to which they aspired. Anyone, from any station in life, could aspire to and through hard work achieve any level of success imaginable. As a result, the idea of social class became meaningless in our nation. Lower class, middle class, upper class …these were terms useful only to politicians seeking to pit one segment of society against another. This, by no coincidence, is precisely what the Obama administration is doing today in its war to destroy American exceptionalism. And in large measure it is succeeding.
Individual liberty aside, the most powerful factor in our nation’s success is capitalist economics. Our economy became the most powerful economy on earth because capitalism was allowed an unprecedented degree of expression. Left to its own mechanisms, capitalism works with individual liberty to outpace every other economic model. Capitalism absolutely assures economic fairness, and though not immune to momentary exploitation, it repairs its own damage quickly when left alone. A capitalist society can achieve a level of health no other model can match under any circumstances. The rub is that it must be paired with a hands-off government and a free, willing, ambitious, and responsible society or it will sputter and misfire.
True, the capitalist system can eventuate grave corrections to great expansion, but the alternative is at best a constant level of economic mediocrity and misery. The historic and recent sustained problems with our nation’s economy have been, in every case, the direct result of government’s ill-conceived meddling or deliberate sabotage. Yet in each case, government demagogues blame specific industries or the entire capitalist system for the problems they themselves created. Also in every case, the proposed solutions bring institutionalized government intrusions into capitalist workings and place corruptive or destructive limitations on a system that cannot be both functional and shackled.
In these times of supposed crisis, accompanying the corruptive and destructive intrusions into our economic system are the same sorts of intrusions into individual liberty. In a professed effort to repair and safeguard economic health, our government implements a succession of soft tyrannies that take a bit more of our property, income, and individual liberty in exchange for the promise of safety; a safety that our government in its supposed benevolent wisdom will mete out according to its own choice. And so our individual sovereign liberty is taken from us bit by bit.
President Obama and his administration have set into motion every possible mechanism they can manage toward transforming our societal foundation from one that champions individual freedom and recognizes man’s inherent sovereign liberty and property into one that says all things should flow from the government to the people. Of course, in order for that model to function, the people must surrender their liberty, their property, and their choices to the government. And so liberty dies.
By the same token, the current administration has set into motion every possible mechanism they can manage toward transforming our economy from the proven success of the capitalist model into a socialist model. Even in the face of what built this great nation and allowed for it to thrive above all others up to this point, they work tirelessly to create the opposite; the model represented by some of the poorest, most hopeless, most inadequate economies on earth.
Our nation was founded in the ideals that protected us from government so that we, the citizens, could remain free to do for ourselves (or not, and live miserably by choice), make choices for ourselves (or not, and live miserably by choice), and create whatever we chose to create for ourselves (or not, by choice)—to pursue life, liberty, and happiness on our own terms and to live with the success or failure we ourselves created.
This is the American dream. But the American dream is dying. This tyrannical President is killing the American dream and working to institute his dream of an all-powerful government. He’s doing it in the name of compassion. He’s doing it, as have all socialist leaders from history, in the name of “the people,” “the workers (working families).” He’s doing it in purported opposition to “the rich”—the ones who employ us and risk all to create greatness that the rest of us benefit from.
In the philosophy of the today’s Democrats and our Democrat President, success is the real tyranny. Success is not fair because, like all qualitative terms, it is relative and seems to contravene equality. Socialists equate fairness with equality, but fairness has no relationship with equality for fairness only describes the playing field and equality refers to the results. In a free society, there can never be equity of result. People must be free to fail as well as succeed or they are not truly free. Inequality of result is required, by definition, for exceptionalism to exist! Socialists throughout history have played this trick upon their people; harping on the supposed unfairness of liberty in an effort to engender outrage with the aim of pitting one segment of society upon the others.
This strategy of divide and conquer is precisely what the current administration is executing. Our leaders are artificially splitting our society into antagonistic sections and working to ensure that the largest section is on the government’s side. By transferring more and more of the tax burden away from the core of society and onto the small yet supposedly evil and selfish portion (the rich), government builds a democratically-unapposable and desperately-dependent majority of citizens who, since they pay no federal taxes, will mandate increasingly higher taxes on others, demand the destruction of success and exceptionalism, and usher in a requirement that government provide everything for all, equally. This is textbook socialist strategy for achieving the death of exceptionalism.
The Demise of American Exceptionalism
In attacking success, one must attack all forms of greatness and all forms of exceptionalism, for these things conflict with absolute equality. Through the unquestioning consumption of our leaders’ socialist rhetoric, too many Americans now cast a jaundiced eye toward success. “American exceptionalism” is a term now found offensive by too many in our nation (indeed the world is turned on its head!). The logical requirement is that we destroy American exceptionalism. To do this, we must destroy our great economy and our great society. To do this we must destroy our own individual liberties and cede them to the government.
In the face of the fact that our exceptionalism contrasts so strongly with the rest of the world, the forces of tyranny see only one solution. Instead of suggesting that other nations aspire to our level, tyrannical socialism demands that we destroy our exceptionalism in order to achieve equality with our peer nations. The socialist ideal of equality is the circumstance in which all are equally miserable. You see, exceptionalism cannot be given to all; misery and mediocrity are the only commodities available in sufficient quantity for universal distribution by governments.
With the death of American exceptionalism, hope is diminished in the world. With the death of American exceptionalism, the definition of freedom will mean less than it should. The result will be a darker, less optimistic world. Without the example of true American exceptionalism, the relative definitions of evil, oppression, tyranny, and liberty, property and success will be less distinct. The lines between them will blur. And this is the explicit aim of the forces of tyranny; for when words lose their inherent meaning the government is left to define them according to its own purposes and whims.
This redefinition of vitally important words and ideas is rampant in our political and social discourse these days. A destruction of the idea of exceptionalism requires it. Each day brings us closer to the notions that success means tyranny, that tyranny means compassion, that exceptionalism should be reviled, and that a history of greatness, hope, and prosperity is instead a history of unfairness and inequality. We are being taught that a future of oppression and tyranny means, instead, hope and prosperity. We are being taught that WE THE PEOPLE are too irresponsible to make our own decisions and to craft our own destinies. The wise thing, we are now taught, is for us to ask our government to decide our level of success and make our decisions for us. Yet each time we allow these “lessons” to take hold we betray our nation, our founders, and our cultural responsibility.
The consequences of this sort of betrayal of our God-given responsibility to ourselves and the world were first described to the future Massachusetts Bay colonists in 1630 by John Winthrop, when in his sermon to he warned:
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God… We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going.”
We must not allow this campaign of betrayal and tyranny to continue. We must not, by our failure, open the mouths of the enemies of liberty and by example give voice to their poisonous pronouncements. For if we allow our shining city on a hill—the beacon of liberty in the world—to be transformed into a sad cautionary tale we fail not just ourselves and our heritage, but the whole world. If we allow American exceptionalism to die, the idea and ideal of exceptionalism in the world will die with it.
We must stand up for our God-given liberty and our inherent rights. Our forefathers did as much and made possible our great American tradition. That restorative recognition and affirmation of our God-given rights was the greatest gift any mortal group on earth has bestowed upon another. Are you prepared to do the same in order to preserve it? You must or our nation will fall into the ranks of the unremarkable, clichéd, oppressed nations, where liberty is qualified, parceled-out according to whim, or simply erased from the record by tyrants and despots.