Every superpower in history has distinguished itself through four fields: culture, science, the military and the economy.
With America, there is a further point of differentiation. The scale, and margin of its domination in these areas has been unheralded. The decade of the 1990s, for example, was virtually unique in history: never before had a superpower been so unchallenged by a major rival.
It’s continued supremacy is due in no small part to its profoundly unique founding, this cause and effect combining to produce what is commonly referred to as American exceptionalism.
America’s greatest strength, and its separation from all other past hegemons, is its transcendence of national borders. It is an idea.
Ideas are more powerful than nations, and yield greater emotional responses. It is why America is both hated and loved in the world. And variant interpretations of the idea also explain the polarity that has always existed on some level within America. But paradoxically, it additionally reveals why in the past, despite differences and new arrivals, America retained its glue.
As America this week celebrated the birthday of George Washington, its greatest citizen ever, on what has become known as Presidents’ Day, the traditional idea of America is more contested than ever before.
The traditions of the United States which include human freedom, individual liberty, opportunity and limited government are immeasurably different to Western Europe. The culture of conservatism, the strain of morality and the river of Christianity that run through America are also absent across the pond.
Yet despite these traditions and cultural realities, recent elections suggest there may be a sufficiently significant bloc within the nation to serious challenge the American idea. There is evidence to suggest that changing demographics are a major factor for this. Of course, changed demographics is often accompanied by changed thinking. Many, for instance, point to Hispanic proclivity for activist government. But America’s melting pot, another aspect of its exceptionalism, has been so successful in Americanizing arrivals through the appeal of its traditional idea and opportunity, it may be that it is simply a matter of time.
But, prima facie, there does appear a delay. Historically, the integration process has been extraordinarily quick. It is possible that changed messages from the government and authority have muddied the traditional idea and thinking, in turn muddling the new arrival.
The emergence of a new entitlement mentality, and its encouragement of a culture of victimization greatly endanger the American experiment, as they are the wrong fuel for the American exceptionalism engine.
Advocates or defenders of increased government activism and related entitlements argue the ideology that limits government is heartless, but there is little statistical evidence that supports this. Americans, per capita, are the most individually charitable people in the world, again by a substantial margin.
This is not to say that collective action in pursuit of a historic achievement is not a worthwhile pursuit. Not at all. In times past, America has been able to act collectively to achieve great things such as getting man on the moon. And in this particular example, while a different era where the mentality was deeply American, it showed the role of government could be sound and helpful, when it amended the national curriculum to provide an emphasis on Mathematics and Science. It is in the world’s interest that America finds a way to do this again, as this could well be what is needed to flare its flame once more.
Pining for the old America may attract criticism but demanding the traditional thinking and lifestyle of those times, in light of history, can’t be seen as anything other than patriotic.