Re: The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Mr. Walt has the right to speak his mind – this is part of what makes us exceptional. But I and most Americans have the right to disagree with him, and in this point disagree quite strongly. Because a large part of what makes us exceptional is the knowledge that we are, and can continue to be, exceptional. Ideas like those from Mr. Walt and the few who consider themselves part of some sort of world society concern those of us who understand not just the privilege but also the responsibility of being an American.
President-Elect John F. Kennedy recognized this when, in 1961, he delivered the following lines:
“I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. ‘We must always consider’, he said, ‘that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us’. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill — constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.”
In my local paper this article ran directly across from the obituaries of several veterans of our military. These words will be facing the children and grandchildren of those who served our country in ways that the children may never appreciate. If, in the future, any paper in the US find itself with blank space that needs filling I would encourage you to contact a member of our military. There are still enough of the Greatest Generation who would be happy to let you know what America means to them. They left thousands of their friends and brothers buried on foreign soil who understood.
My daughter is a beautiful young lady, but if enough people tell her she is ugly she will start to believe it, despite what she sees in the mirror. Likewise young people today who are no longer taught the roll America has played in saving the world for the past 200 years don’t have the foundation to recognize the bitterness of someone like Mr. Walt.
No, Mr. Walt, we haven’t always achieved it. But exceptionalism is something that we strive for, something that sets us apart from other nations. Because to be American means more than just enjoying our prosperity. It means always trying to make that our country the shining city on the hill, a true place of hope for all people who can see what can be accomplished in just a few hundred years by a nation birthed in a revolution and dedicated to the proposition 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
Unfortunately to many, it seems, this sounds trite, old fashioned, or not politically correct. But without those values and goals, America starts to lose its identity and uniqueness.
Nobody put it better than Ronald Regan – “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still”
American Exceptionalism is not mythical, but it is legendary. People around the world believe in it, which is why they continue to try and get here by any means necessary. Now people in America need to start feeling it again and speak out against the few who try to say otherwise. We outnumber them, but we need to make our voices heard.
So if there was an upside to me reading Mr. Walt’s article it is that it caused me to sit down and write this letter. Too often I take America for granted. I simply assume that tomorrow I will wake up and she will still be the greatest nation on earth. I guess that every now and then I need someone to come along and poke her to remind me how important it is to fight for what she means to me.