Do you believe the United States is an exceptional country?
Paul Bremmer – Wash D.C., St. Bonaventure University 2012 Graduate, Bio – The word “exceptional,” in the strictest sense, means something is not ordinary. However, it also implies “above average.” The United States is certainly not an ordinary country, and I believe it is above average.
America is, and has always been, the exception to the rule. At the time of our founding, the world was dominated by monarchies. But the founding fathers of the United States rejected the rule of a king or queen in favor of rule by the people. Many nations of the world imposed an official state religion, but the United States welcomed people of all faiths and allowed them to practice their religions.
Most countries are racially, ethnically, and culturally homogeneous for the most part. The United States, however, is a racially and ethnically diverse land filled with people whose ancestors came from all over the globe.
The founding of the United States truly was a radical experiment. At the time, democracy had been virtually extinct since the days of ancient Greece, and republics had been out of fashion since the days of ancient Rome. It was no certainty that the American people would be able to rule themselves without the help of a monarch.
But as it turned out, they could. The most incredible part, though, is that as America has grown more racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse over time, the country has not only survived, but grown stronger.
This is counter-intuitive. In most of the world, diversity is a recipe for endless conflict. (Think of Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, and the Middle East.) So, I think America’s rise to world superpower status is all the more remarkable given how diverse we are. We have shown the world self-governance can work, even in a nation as large and diverse as ours.
We have survived a lot of events that might have destroyed lesser countries. We made it through a civil war, a prolonged economic depression, two world wars, and a Cold War that threatened to annihilate humanity. We came out the other end as the world’s lone remaining superpower. Through it all, we have remained committed to our values of liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all. That is what makes us an exceptional nation.
The challenge for the United States going forward is to avoid becoming arrogant. Our leaders should not assume that because we are exceptional, we must impose our institutions and values on other nations. Also, being exceptional does not make us invincible. We need to be careful to avoid the failings of other great empires, such as overextending our military or taking in too many foreigners who fail to assimilate.
Nana Osei – SC, College of Charleston Student, Bio – I think America is an exceptional country for numerous reasons. There are so many different parts one can name in defining an exceptional country. I will focus on three main criteria that make this country exceptional.
It starts by looking at the specific aspects that make a country exceptional. What separates the United States from other nations? It begins with a few unique aspects of life that only the U.S. can claim. The first feature is what I consider the most important, because it has the biggest effect on education and the future of America.
Having the best universities in the world alone is a big enough reason to consider America exceptional. Not only America having the best in the world, but America also having a vast number of successful education institutions throughout the country. By having so many legitimate universities, it ensures there will be a next generation that is educated and will be able to help the country develop.
The second exceptional aspect to America is the backbone to the nation, its freedom. Known as the land of the free, American citizens have a freedom very few ever experience in their home countries. Freedom is instilled in the country’s culture and in the constitution. The Bill of Rights is the initial 10 amendments that make up the U.S. constitution. These rights are freedoms all American citizens acquire by simple being American.
The right of freedom is an exceptional piece of justice not given in many nations throughout the world we live in. By making freedom a necessary part of life, it has adapted and molded the culture into what America has today. This is an exceptional part of American society.
The last exceptional aspect of this country is its government system. The three-branch government system checks and balance was put into place by our founding fathers to protect individual freedoms. Its purpose is to protect citizens from government abusing their power against the people. It is one of the best government systems ever created.
Establishing strong checks and balances for each specific branch of Executive, Judicial, and Legislative, the American federal government is truly amazing. This government system model has had a major influence on other foreign nations and has impacted the way others construct systems. This would also be considered an exceptional feat as it allowed for this country to be governed in a fair and just manner.
These three specific pieces of this great country are only a few of many aspects that make America exceptional. Not many countries have such an influence over the rest of the world and of so many citizens domestically. America is truly a unique and one of a kind country, which is why it is exceptional.
As an Australian citizen who has lived in America for over ten years, my answer is yes. Yes, the United States is an exceptional country for numerous reasons.
Initially one must look at American government. Arguably, it is considered the best government structure in the world. The three branches of American Government were constructed in 1787 to create a strong federal government while still trying to protect the individual freedoms and prevent government from abusing their power. Each branch has a system of check and balances to ensure the people in each cannot overstep their political boundaries.
America’s strength is its constitution, freedoms, and government. Merriam Webster defines exceptional as “not usual, uncommon, rare and better than average.” Is the United States of America uncommon, rare, and better than average? Yes.
Josh Lim – PA, University of Warsaw 2012 Graduate, Ateneo de Manila University 2014 Graduate, Bio – As an American living outside the United States, this was a question I had to grapple with on a regular basis. Each and every country has its own unique story—something that sets it apart from its peers and gives it its own unique character. If I were to use this definition, then by extension all countries are exceptional.
But if that were the case, what then is the United States?
We should look at what the term “American Exceptionalism” implies—the most obvious iteration of this question. The logic goes the United States, as the world’s first “new nation” is so inherently different from other countries we must understand it when it does things differently from the rest of the world, and we can’t expect it to march to its beat.
Sure, on the one hand the United States is exceptional. Nowhere else on Earth is there a country that has built so much in such a short amount of time, and we and the world respects us for that.
America is exceptional in that it was a nation molded on liberty, freedom, and equality – a wildly different set of values and ideals that previously defined the Old World—a new order of the ages (Novus ordo seclorum) that, as Charles Thomson suggested, would signify “the beginning of the new American Era” that would be put on the Great Seal. In fact, we still belong in this era: Thomas Jefferson’s “Empire of Liberty,” where America is the world’s model for freedom and democracy, still lives.
But there is a dark side to this exceptionalism. Exceptionalism has been used to justify the most reprehensible crimes against others, because we sought to assert our supremacy over those who don’t adhere to who we say we are.
Exceptionalism in the 19th century was tied to Manifest Destiny, which lapsed America towards the very Old World ideals it sought to repudiate. She didn’t want an empire, for example, but got one built on the blood of American victors and foreign victims by the early 20th century. She wanted to avoid war with the Monroe Doctrine, but found herself dragged into World War I.
What does this point out to? Yes, America is exceptional. It has served as a role model for countries the whole world over, and her story is truly unique as the world’s first “new nation”, unencumbered by the pretenses of Europe. But at the same time, America is mortal, unexceptional, and just like the rest of us. She succumbs to the pressures of the world around her, seeks to be like them, and ultimately found her place at the top.
But I do think the United States should be commended for making a name for itself among nations. America survived on sheer will and determination where so many others have failed, and it was her example that inspired so many other countries to survive and make it out on their own.
But, we must also reconcile the fact the United States was only able to achieve what it has achieved on the back of injustice, inequality and the suffering of her fellow men. And, we must begin to reconcile what exceptional qualities this nation has with the dark past that built it. Only then can we truly say America is exceptional, because that’s the reputation she rightfully deserves as her own.
Arianna Mendez – FL, Florida International University 2014 Masters Degree, Bio – At a G-20 conference in April 2009, President Obama was asked if the United States had a unique role in the world. Instead of explaining what makes America “unique” or “great,” the president responded, “I believe in American Exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British Exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek Exceptionalism. Every nation thinks highly of itself, it seems, and America should get over the idea that is anything special.”
With all due respect Mr. President, I have a very different view of America and its role in the world. Granted every country has its own unique history and culture, but the United States is the only nation explicitly founded upon the principles of human equality and natural rights.
Western critics of the United States often take widespread freedom, unprecedented global prosperity (even after the 2008 recession), and absence of war among great powers for granted. In 1941, there were only twelve democracies in the world. In contrast, there are more than 100 in 2015. This world order lauded by intellectual elites and policy makers was created in large part due to America’s post WWII promotion of universal principles.
The principles that define America also shape its understanding of the world. America appeals to a higher standard that all governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. Liberty is not a concept exclusive to the United States, but the understanding liberty is a permanent aspect of human nature everywhere is central to America’s first principles.
This does not mean the United States should embrace interventionist foreign policy objectives long term to spread American principles. The primary responsibly of the United States should be to defend the freedom and well being of the American people. To safeguard the well being and freedom of the American people, the United States must apply America’s universal principles to the challenges it faces abroad.
America has not always been successful when confronting these challenges, but the United States has always strived and should continue to uphold these exceptional ideals. As President George Washington said in his First Inaugural Address, “The perseveration of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Danielle Secor – NY, Seton Hall University 2015 Graduate, Working on Masters Degree, Bio – From the time of George Washington until today, many Americans tend to believe the United States is an exceptional country. Throughout history, time and time again people have voiced their opinions on the fact that America has been chosen by God to lead the world.
In all honesty, I do not believe this to be true. America is exceptional in the respect it is a melting pot, and it is governed by one of the longest standing documents in the world, the Constitution, which is exceptional.
Unlike other countries, Americans move past their racial and ethnic boundaries in order to form one perfect union, but we could do more. In the United States there are still issues that need to be addressed before the United States can truly be called exceptional.
Women still receive lower wages than men. People are still discriminated against due to their race, their sex, and their sexual preference which are all major issues that need to be dealt with.
In order to be truly exceptional and lead the world, the United States needs to lead by example. This is also necessary so the United States does not make enemies. In order to be a world leader, one must not only be loved and feared but respected.
Although we are part of the Western world, we must take other cultures’ values into consideration and understand change does not come over night. We are still a country that is imperfect and a country capable of error.
The United States is exceptional in material respects, but how can we call ourselves exceptional when we too, like any other country, have our faults? Overall, the argument over whether or not the United States is exceptional is not a black and white issue. There are many grey areas, which is why it is not the term that is disputed, but the dispute is how people interpret American Exceptionalism.
Photo Credit – Cute-Calendar