American exceptionalism: we’d be damned fools not to believe in it

I wrote here about the College Board’s effort to mandate that AP U.S. History be taught from a leftist perspective. That perspective is based, in part, on a critique of “American exceptionalism.”

In my post, borrowing from Stanley Kurtz, I took “American exceptionalism” to mean the view that celebrates America as a model, vindicator, and at times the chief defender of ordered liberty and self-government in the world.

There are, of course, other ways to state the sense in which America is exceptional. But to constitute American exceptionalism as the term has always been used, that sense must be, on balance, a very positive one.

Suppose that Americans stopped viewing their country as exceptional in the positive sense. Suppose we adopted the view espoused by Thomas Bender, to whom the new approach to AP U.S. History is tied, that we are just “a province among the provinces that make up the world.”

Americans would then be exceptional in a different sense.

As President Obama has suggested, it is normal for citizens to believe their country is exceptional. Obama put it this way:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

This is vintage Obama. He stands above America — putting us in a “global perspective” as just another country that considers itself exceptional.

This, as I tried to show in my post, is the same perspective that gives rise to the way the College Board wants AP U.S. History to be taught.

Still, I agree with Obama that Brits probably believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks in Greek exceptionalism. And I knew first hand that the French believe in French exceptionalism.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to citizens of countries like Britain, Greece, and France, whose histories indisputably are exceptional. When I talk to immigrants from Central and South America, they speak proudly of “my country,” the nation they left to come to the U.S.

I don’t probe deeply enough to learn whether they consider their country “exceptional” or to discover what version of their national history they are taught in school. But it’s clear that they don’t view their country as just a province among the provinces that make up the world.

When I visited the Dominican Republic this past winter, I discovered a narrative of that nation’s history (which I gather is taught) that holds that its patriots thwarted the U.S. when we intervened militarily in 1965. In reality, the U.S. was not thwarted.

The U.S. accomplished its goal of preventing a left-wing takeover of the DR and saw its preferred presidential candidate, Joaquín Balaguer who had been closely associated with the dictator Trujillo, elected president under a plan for forming a new government imposed by the U.S. (Balaguer went on to serve 22 years as democratically elected president, presiding over stunning economic growth and development).

If the Brits, the Greeks, the French, and the Dominicans believe in the exceptionalism of their respective countries, then, as Yossarian might say, Americans would be damned fools to feel any other way.

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