I want to commend Peter Berkowitz’s recent post at RealClearPolitics to your attention. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Contrasting positions on American exceptionalism go to the heart of what distinguishes the 2016 Republican presidential field from its Democratic counterpart.
However much they disagree among themselves, the pronounced tendency among Republicans—particularly Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—is to celebrate the spirit and forms of constitutional self-government that have historically set America apart.
In contrast, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, like President Obama, are inclined to call attention to America’s flaws and failures stretching back to the nation’s founding. Inspired by a doctrine that treats unequal outcomes as evidence of political deficiency, they seek to ensure equality of result through extensive government supervision of the economy and substantial provision of entitlements—and to look to Europe for models of how to enlarge the regulatory and social welfare state.
I don’t think he has that quite right. Conservatives look to the past, real or imagined. They love America for what they think it is or has been. Progressives have their eyes firmly fixed on the future. They love America for what it might become rather than for what it is.
Both will always be disappointed. The past and present will never live up to the imagined past and present. And with their focus on the future, for progressives present day America will always fall short.
A century ago in his essay “What I Saw in America” G. K. Chesterton noted that America is a country founded on a creed. That is our distinction, our exceptionalism. I’m not sure that anyone believes in that creed anymore and without that America is nothing.
I’m not sure that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and President Obama are actually inclined to call attention to America’s flaws and failures stretching back to the nation’s founding. I think he is confusing them with the arguments their supports tend to make in favor of their policies. For the most part, these are Presidential candidates that in one shape or form cast their positions within an optimistic view of America’s potential. That’s part of the job description as a potential President.
Are Hillary and Bernie wearing flag pins though?
One exception, however: Progressives celebrate American immigration history, real or imagined. The latter in my opinion.
I don’t think it’s imagined. I think it’s highly romanticized.
It’s easier to rally around a creed that stands out from competing creeds, and ours no longer does. There are a whole bunch of quasi-free market democracies, and the only opposition is from Islam or ideologically confused messes like China. Basically no one outside the US is making much of a case that the American system is fundamentally wrong. In effect, we won the ideological war. We made monarchy obsolete, out-fought fascism and out-lasted communism. How do you define yourself by an ideal shared so widely? It’s like announcing that you stand firmly behind mom and apple pie. So what, doesn’t everyone?
I’ve been worried about this for a long time because to a writer it looks an awful lot as if our lead character (the US of A) has no motivation. Where is he going? What does he want? Why? There’s a loop I can get into where I haven’t figured out the story so I just sort of write around in circles until it gels. I call it “voguing” for some reason, after the Madonna song. Characters talk and strike poses but nothing happens because the thread has been lost. That’s how the country feels to me now, like we’re all sort of wandering around waiting for the great writer in the sky to come up with a plotline to move us forward. Wherever the hell ‘forward’ is.