The end of American exceptionalism?

The editors of The Christian Century have written perceptively about American exceptionalism:

What will be interesting to watch is how American people and leaders adjust to new economic constraints and diminished expectations. One temptation will be to look for scapegoats, at home and abroad.

At stake in this question is the long tradition of American exceptionalism—the myth that the U.S. has not only a unique history but a special destiny that makes it economically, politically and even spiritually greater than other countries. This strong version of American exceptionalism is an article of faith for some politicians, and it is likely to be a campaign theme in the 2012 presidential election. Mike Huckabee, a possible candidate in that election, says: “To deny American exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation.”

But what is it that makes America exceptional? Its military might? Its economic power? One often hears that the U.S. is exceptional in offering its citizens unmatched economic opportunity. But in fact the U.S. has been surpassed by other countries in measurements of social mobility. With its widening gap between the rich and the poor, the decline of its middle class and crises in its health care and educational systems, the U.S. is no longer the golden land of opportunity.

The editors suggest that Christians might have something particular to contribute to shaping a new national identity. What do you think that might be?

Past Posts