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.
- 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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