September 12, 2013

American Exceptionalism

My go-to source for news of "the world's major wars, conflicts...military, political, and intelligence" issues is War News Updates, a blog edited by a fellow of Russian ancestry who currently lives in Canada. He does a remarkable job of posting articles throughout the day, occasionally adding his own comment. I mention this because of all the hubbub created by the Putin Op-Ed piece in yesterday's New York Times.  Pundits from across the political spectrum have weighed in on various aspects of it with perhaps the most attention paid to Putin's dismissive comment about "American exceptionalism." There are so many items about America, what it stands for, what it has contributed to the world, the hope it has brought to millions, the burden it has borne on behalf of so many who were unable, or unwilling, to do so on their own that I would scarcely know where to start...but then there's this...the comment posted today from the Russian-Canadian editor of WNU:
"As to what is my take on American exceptionalism .... read the following.
Being one who grew up in the former Soviet Union .... and who now lives in Canada but travels to the U.S. all the time .... I think I have a certain perspective on American exceptionalism that I know that Russian President Putin does not have ... and .... I sometimes wonder .... if President Obama and most Americans still believe in.
American exceptionalism is not because America was and is made up of special people. Or (as some believe) that God has chosen the American people. It is certainly not because of it's national and international policies ... nor of the good deeds that Americans are always trying to do.
American exceptionalism is the following ..... throughout history mankind has always lived under (and been subjected to) despots and tyranny that made survival the primary goal of everyone .... with the exception of the rulers. But the founding of America broke .... for the first time .... this state of affairs. In short .... the U.S. was founded by men who believed that leaders must serve the people .... and not the other way around .... and to insure that this will not change a constitution was then set up and enshrined in law on how this government was to function .... and more importantly .... enshrining in law the freedom and liberty that individuals will have in such a nation..
Yup .... liberty and freedom codified by law is what made America exceptional .... not the power and might of it's government.
As to Putin's comments that God created us equal .... the framers of the constitution understood this .... hence enshrining in the constitution a political framework that was codified by law that acknowledges God's creation.
President Putin as a former communist does not understand this. President Obama .... when I listen to his comments on negative liberties .... certainly does not. And sadly .... most of the world certainly does not.
But people worldwide have always found this topic to be a fascinating one to talk about .... and in my travels to places in Asia and Europe I have always found myself getting into these discussions. Interestingly .... these debates always ended when I made the following observation. Culturally .... Europe and Asia are centuries ahead of the U.S. .... if not more. Their history is rich with thousands of years of life experiences .... something that a young nation like America cannot even hope to compare to. But .... when looked at politically .... America is the giant and the old wise man while all of these old nations are just juvenuiles struggling only now to attain those concepts of freedom and liberty that we in North America have take for granted for the past two centuries."
Why is it that some of the best commentary on the exceptionalism of America comes from people who aren't Americans, or at least weren't so originally? I think it's because people who have grown up outside of America have experienced first-hand a vastly different reality than most Americans can even begin to understand. For many (most?) of those living somewhere other than America, daily reality includes oppressive governments, few personal freedoms, limited opportunities, and subsistence living. It includes an enduring concern for personal safety and, for many, resignation to whatever socio-economic status they were born into. Here in America, the vast majority of us have known nothing but personal liberty, the opportunity to pursue whatever we desired (whether we take advantage of those opportunities is an entirely different matter), a complete absence of true fear of authorities, the ability to come and go as we please, and to say pretty much whatever we want to, whenever we want to, with no fear of consequence. Long stretches of national peace, ease, relative comfort, comparative wealth--the list goes on--tend to lull people into a false sense that things have always been and will always be this way at little personal cost. Like subsisting on charity for a long stretch of time with no obligation to repay it in any way, even through community service, the recipient grows to feel entitled to such, gets resentful when called upon to 'pay up,' and seeks the cover of sympathetic patrons when the 'easy times' are threatened. Nationally, we are teetering on the edge of such a condition. For almost a quarter century now, since the dissolution of our global opponent, the Soviet Union, we have extended benefit upon benefit to our citizenry and have asked for almost nothing in return. Our living has been good, perhaps too good. But now competitors challenge us at every turn. The 'daily reality' of much of the world begins to affect us here at home. At a moment when strength is needed, we find ourselves riddled with debt, unmoored from our founding principles, and cynically suspicious of our own government.

Make no mistake - our system is still the best there is. It possesses the greatest inherent resilience, provides for the greatest opportunity for the greatest number of people, facilitates the transfer of power from one group to the next without bloodshed, enables the greatest participation in the process limited only by the interest of our citizenry to participate in the first place. Our system is able to easily trounce any other in the world because of the inherent failings of the others. In fact, the only real threat to America comes from inside America and that threat stems from the apathy of its citizens. If you don't care enough to take an interest and get involved, don't be surprised if you wake up one day to find the world you remembered has been replaced by another that's hungrier, more ambitious, and more confident in itself. In the end, it really is up to us.

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