This last week Vladimir Putin wrote in the New York Times an op-ed that, in part, chastised America for her insistence that she is exceptional. Well, Vlad, America is absolutely unique, whether you, or Obama, think so or not. This country is the first country on the face of the earth to have formed a government with the express purpose of limiting its power. This is the first country – the only country besides Israel — to have taken the Bible and divine purpose into account in the formation process. Actually, the very fact that this government was carefully crafted, through much research and discussion, is unique. Most governments just evolve; ours was created and it was created to just barely exist. That has produced the most astounding country this world has ever known.
It is true that for the last 100 years America has been slipping, slowly sliding off her pedestal. We have, on occasion, caught ourselves and pulled back: Calvin Coolidge yanked us out of the progressive Woodrow Wilson debacle; World War II dragged us out of the Great Depression and the heavy governmental weight FDR left hanging over us; Ronald Reagan pulled us back from the cliff edge where Carter left us hanging; but the total drift over the last century has been back down to the earthly norm of tyranny, heavy taxes, and loss of hope. Barack Obama has almost succeeded in robbing the United States of America of its exceptionalism. He has sent us staggering leftward into the kind of poverty and despair that is common in the rest of the world. If we have to tolerate this kind of leadership much longer, Putin will be right; we won’t be any different.
OK, okay, but isn’t it arrogant to think that we’re special? Aren’t we just like everyone else? No. We’re not. In the first place, arrogance is the bane of all human existence, American or otherwise. Secondly, if America really is amazing, it’s just the truth (Arrogance is thinking one is better than what one really is.) If the world really has never seen the like (and it hasn’t), then we have the right to hold our heads high and say so.
What’s so special about us? Easy to answer, but you have to know some history, some theology, some current cultural information.
America started for all the right reasons. For over 400 years people have been coming to this continent for hope – financial, political, spiritual. They came here to make more of their lives than mere survival. They came here for adventure, for opportunity, for possibility, for integrity.
Human beings have been moving about since Noah and his family left the Ark, but the American migration – which continues to this day, has been unique. Most massive movement in the past has been away from some place that was no longer hospitable – a kind of refugee motivation, an aimless, desperate wandering. Today Syrians, Christian Syrians especially, are pouring out of their country by the millions. They have no where to go, but they must leave or die.
It is true that people who came to America left behind something objectionable, but they chose this place specifically, not accidentally, and they did so because the very idea of America is benign, welcoming, full of promise. Yes, yes, I hear you. We have sometimes not lived up to that ideal, but we are the only nation to ever set benevolence as a national goal.
Not only are our founding ideas,* our invitation to the oppressed of the world, absolutely unique, but so are the people who have accepted that invitation.
It takes more than desperation and desire to leave behind all that is home and come to a new continent, a new culture, a new paradigm. It takes courage, a sense of adventure, an imaginative mind, a trusting f
aith, and monstrous determination. Not all people possess those attributes. Even though Americans are made up of an amazing tangle of cultures and backgrounds, we all have these traits in common, or at least our ancestors did. My tiny great grandmother came here pre-Ellis Island all by herself. She was 17 years old. She would never see her family again. She would spend the rest of her life on a farm in Nebraska and never again walk the streets of Copenhagen. But when the young man she had been “walking out” with, the young man who had gone off to America two years earlier wrote and asked her to come join him, she did. She was independent, feisty, and strong-willed. She was much like all other immigrants.
For 400 years all races and backgrounds have been coming here, marrying, and producing yet another generation of tough, risk-loving, inventive, brave people. Put us all together in one country, a country whose government used to get out of our way and let us “become what we could become”. Under these conditions we will beat all and have proven so.
Of course, the government has to stay out of our way, but even though, for the last century, it has been straining to do otherwise, America still holds hope for anyone with a great idea, the willingness to work hard on it, and the disposition to risk failure.
Because of these people it was America that broke the bonds of space – we invented travel – the steam engine, mass production of the automobile, paved roads, air travel. It was America that broke the bonds of time with electricity, telephones, computers, -- I needn’t go on. We have made it possible to feed the world. We have made it possible through mass production to make goods available to everyone. Our poor live better than kings used to live. They live in homes with hot and cold running water, heat and air conditioning, cell phones, clean clothes, televisions, microwaves, refrigerators.
We try to take care of our poor and disaster-devastated, and we try to take care of the unfortunates in other nations, as well. No nation has ever done that to the extent that we have, and we do it partially through our government, but even more effectively with private effort. America has a code she lives by – I’m not referring here to Washinton – that demands that we play fairly, help others, develop solutions and not cause problems. (Though since solutions are occasionally the creating force behind problems, that hasn’t always gone as intended.)
We have been exceptional in that we started our nation with God leading the way. Our code comes out of our need to do as He has asked and we have done so because we know that His direction is for our own good (note the unprecedented prosperity and blessing it produced) and that it would redound to the entire world; we would be a door through which the rest of the world would pass.
None of this is normal. Our national tendency has always been to question the authority that in other places and times caused our ancestors so much pain. Defiance is our natural state – don’t tread on me. But so is kindness, openness, a naïve assumption that all folks are just like us. They aren’t and Putin knows that.
In most countries cow-towing to authority (like Putin’s) is what you do. In Islamic countries this is disastrously true, especially for women. In fact, in Islamic culture, anger is the modus operandi – compassion and concern for the freedom and prosperity of others is not part of the equation. Islam does not mean peace; it means submission. Progressive nations are not much better off, and most Western socialist countries have been so inundated with Islamic immigrants that what little difference exists between them is slowly fading.
The United States of America, even in its current troubled state, is still way ahead of what ever is in second place. Yes, we must fix our economy, de-corrupt our government, clean up our culture, and rebuild our educational system and the Christian church. Lots of challenges await us. But we are America. Challenge is what makes us tick. Freedom and determination is what keeps us ticking, and most of us still know that God is on our side. Vlad made the mistake of thinking that Obama correctly represents this great country. He doesn’t. He’s not exceptional, but we are.
*(We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.)