Rascals, the need for real American exceptionalism

Graphic | St. George News

OPINION – There is no way to break the news gently. The days in which America was truly exceptional compared to other nations have passed.

The change has taken place right under our noses, slowly but consistently, for more than 200 years.

The ideals and principles that once differentiated between America and the rest of the world have nearly all been discarded in favor of becoming more like other developed nations.

In order for something, or someone, to be legitimately exceptional, they cannot be just like everything or everyone else.

America once stood as a beacon to other nations with her commitment to limited government that existed to guarantee individual rights, independence, free markets and private property. It was a haven for those who wished to breathe free.

That’s what made us exceptional compared to the other nations. But true exceptionalism existed for a relatively short time before opportunists and power-seekers sought to do away with it.

Writer Paul Rosenberg described how the slow process of transforming from a remarkably unique nation into something indistinguishable from other nations took place. Stripped of the political mythology, the truth, while hard to take, is not hard to see.

Rosenberg writes:

  • The Dutch and the Brits created central banking, and the US followed right along
  • The French came up with the will of the people being embodied in national assemblies, and the US followed right along
  • The Germans created social welfare, and the US followed right along
  • They tax income; we tax income
  • They regulate private commerce; we regulate private commerce
  • They claim control of communications; the US guv claims control of communications
  • They built massive armies and conducted foreign wars; the US did the same and now exceeds them all

When we hear talk of American exceptionalism today, it’s nearly always in the context of justifying more authoritarian government policies at home or more belligerent policies abroad. Once our personal sovereignty limited government to the role of a servant. Now government forcefully claims the prerogative to rule our lives from start to finish.

Pointing out America’s decline from exceptional to uniformity among nations tends to rile those prone to nationalism. With the fervor only true believers can muster, they’ll insist that as long as we can militarily dominate any other nation on earth, America is still number one.

They forget that dominion and power were not what made America exceptional in the beginning. President John Quincy Adams once explained the national risk involved in becoming a vanquisher of monsters abroad rather than a defender of her people:

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

This is exactly what has happened to America and why our national exceptionalism has ended.

The acknowledgement of this hard truth does not mean we hate our nation or that we have given up in the fight to reclaim what is best about America. It means that we have grown beyond the platitudes our leaders spout to convince us that our national character is sound when we know it is not.

It also spells opportunity for each of us to give real meaning to the word exceptionalism once again by how we choose to live our lives. We must be willing to be different for the right reasons.

Leadership guru Chris Brady’s book “Rascal” offers a refreshing affirmation of the power of personal exceptionalism to bring about positive change in the world.

Brady invites his reader to make a difference by becoming an original character. This is no call to embrace hedonistic nonconformity. It’s an invitation to break with the expectations of others and to find the courage to choose a life path that is as individual as each one of us.

This requires a willingness to break with convention, much as the founding generation of America did when they claimed that their rights were beyond the reach of kings and parliaments. Like them, modern rascals can expect to be called crazy for failing to conform.

And like them, the modern rascal will be a rebel with a cause. It’s not about being different just to be different. It’s about choosing to be different in order to make a difference.

As Brady puts it, “Rascals are the great amplifiers of the principles that allow people to be free.”

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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13 Comments

  • BIG GUY March 23, 2015 at 8:23 am

    The world has changed since 1776. Many nations have adopted the democratic ideas first espoused by our founding fathers, making them more like us and therefore making us less exceptional by definition. And we have adopted good ideas from other countries, once again making us less exceptional. We can be pleased to have been at the forefront of many of today’s governing norms and we continue to lead the world in some exceptional ways, but in an era of worldwide near-instant communications, ideas are adopted rapidly by others.

    Unlike Paul Rosenberg and Bryan, few today oppose central banks, Social Security, or necessary regulation of commerce (anti-trust laws, business and professional licensing, FDA, SEC, FAA) and communications (FCC). We may disagree about the extent of such regulation or argue about specifics, but today’s world is far too complex to return to the first principles Bryan longs for.

    • fun bag March 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

      blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah ……….. on and on …….. blah blah blah

      • mesaman March 23, 2015 at 5:41 pm

        Well, said and noted. Do you feel better now?

        • Mesaizacd March 24, 2015 at 8:47 am

          You like that eh.? Stupid its simple enough for you to be able to read it

    • NotSoFast March 23, 2015 at 11:16 am

      Correct me if I’m wrong Big Guy, it sounds like you would be very content and would support a one world government. Why waste time on supporting America’s founding democratic principles. Their so- Old Hat now a days.
      Exceptional ism? bah hum bug

  • sagemoon March 23, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Another great piece, Bryan.

    • fun bag March 23, 2015 at 4:57 pm

      REally?! Has anything this guy has written been “great”, a couple of them, when non-political, have been acceptable, but “great”?!

      • sagemoon March 24, 2015 at 8:37 am

        Yes, really! I appreciate hearing thoughts from someone who doesn’t write to please the mainstream of the area. I like Ed’s articles, too. Both are thoughtful and both are good at writing.

  • BIG GUY March 23, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Not sure how you extrapolated my comments as supporting one world government. That would be a disaster: just look at the UN General Assembly.

    Bryan’s column primarily addressed our governmental institutions, complaining that we are no longer exceptional. Exceptional is defined as “not ordinary; uncommon; rare; superior due to rarity.” As other nations have copied our democratic institutions—and we have copied a few of theirs—our government is no longer exceptional in that sense.

    But unlike Obama, I believe we are exceptional in other important ways. We are a country of immigrants most of whom came here for a better life. We are the world’s science and technology leaders and have contributed more to world health and prosperity than any other country. We have a vibrant and diverse culture that entertains and inspires most of the world through television, movies, music and the Internet. Our people are more adaptable and ready to adopt new ways of doing things than most of the world. Our country is exceptional; our government is exceptional no longer and the world is better for it.

    • fun bag March 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      Repeat after me “it’s all Obama’s fault”

      • mesaman March 23, 2015 at 5:42 pm

        IT’S ALL OBAMA’S FAULT.

        • Mesaizacd March 24, 2015 at 8:46 am

          You feel better now stupid.?

  • Roy J March 23, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Actually, I would say that those who are prone to being unhappy in a country that is not exceptional are equally prone to nationalism. It takes a certain type of patriotic spirit to say that a country having gone by a well known and well beloved name for hundreds of years was never really worthy to be called such. There is a sort of national character that does not first attempt to follow a principle of government through its actual and historical development before declaring that particular principle must have fallen stillborn (or at any rate was strangled soon afterwards), simply because it does not fit into that national character’s preconceived notions of right. Those who have attempted to follow America’s progress and struggles know better than to make this kind of argument, well aware, as they are, of the grave difficulties attendant upon comprehending, in totality, any enterprise as vast as that of America. They find themselves silent more often than not, because, having seen for themselves that America does in fact exist as a real country, people and empire (and only one among a historical multitude), they have found that their efforts are far better served in trying to understand her as she is, rather than blindly attempting to refashion her into something they alone imagined her to be. I think this is a fair argument to make here because I do not agree that the bureaucratic government that we have today did not develop from the principles of government laid down by the founding fathers. I think quite the opposite is true. However, since Bryan has pointed out what I think must be a truly exceptional example in history; viz., that form the application of the so-called principles of liberty has sprung up a despotic nightmare of government, the onus probandi must, and ought to remain, with him.

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