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American exceptionalism a virtue, not a problem

Written By | Dec 23, 2015

WASHINGTON, December 23, 2015 — The left continues to attack American exceptionalism. They believe that the concept makes Americans feel superior toward others, including both inside and outside the country.

Inside the country, it supposedly divides Americans. Federal policies in the last six years seem designed to reduce Americans’ supposedly superior view of themselves. But maybe its critics don’t understand American exceptionalism. Maybe this supposed superior attitude is caused by something else.

There are many definitions of “American exceptionalism.” Scholar Ian Tyrell says that the term “refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty.”

Tyrell notes that the term was originally coined by Marxists who tried to explain why the U.S. bypassed the rise of socialism and Marxism. The obvious reason was that socialism and Marxism are inconsistent with the American character, so under normal times, neither could thrive in the U.S.

These, however, are not normal times.

Federal legislation, policy and regulation have attacked and undermined the foundations of American exceptionalism. Presumably well-intentioned policy has increased the number of Americans dependent on the government, which restricts freedom and personal liberty. It has applied excessive regulations, many on business in the marketplace, which is inconsistent with “a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals.”

The benefits of American exceptionalism are obvious: The U.S. has the world’s largest and strongest economy, the most powerful military, and a free society that is the envy of the world.  Americans generally have more opportunity and a higher quality of life than most of the rest of the world.

There are, however, problems.

The most serious problems center on the treatment of minorities. American abuse of minorities started with the treatment of Native Americans and continued through virtually every minority that entered the country. The harshest treatment was toward African Americans, who were originally enslaved in the U.S., just as they were in other countries of the world.

The benefits of American exceptionalism far outweigh America’s shortcomings as a nation. While the problems always need to be addressed, the primary focus should be maintaining the basic principles that keep this country truly exceptional.

What then causes Americans to take on a sense of superiority?

The perception of superiority exists when people believe they are better than others. The reason for this is usually economic, and often between someone who is not freely giving and someone who is receiving. This situation worsens as income inequality grows. But income inequality always appears when opportunity is pursued by some, while others (usually) freely choose not to contribute.

The better approach to reducing the American sense of superiority would be to ensure that opportunity is provided to all, and then encourage everyone who is able to take advantage of it and contribute to society. The result would be a reduction in income inequality, a reduction in the number of Americans dependent on the government and removal of the conditions that encourage the superior view.

In the past six years, the federal government has done exactly the opposite in many ways, most importantly by not focusing on economic growth. As a result, growth has averaged just over 2 percent annually, less than half of the rate we should have experienced following a severe recession like the one that officially ended in June 2009.

Because of the lack of growth, the number of new businesses closing has exceeded the number of new businesses opening for most of the past six years, and there was the lack of expansion by existing firms. The slow growth has led to a lack of opportunity for too many Americans.

The poor growth has also increased the number of Americans dependent on the government, which contributes to the sense of superiority displayed by those Americans who must pay for that dependence.

There likely will be little done next year to stimulate economic growth as national security and income inequality issues will dominate the debate.  At some point, we should recognize that the unique system set up by our forefathers and refined by our leaders over time, encourages Americans to be exceptional.

We should all embrace that concept.

Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.