Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Originally posted at The Minority Report on 06/22/09

A while back, I posted a diary about how the GOP (and, in a way, the conservative movement as a whole) needs to ramp up its message in order to reach people of my generation. As I was sifting through the comment threads and other responses I got (I assure you they were many and varied,) I got to thinking about the core values of conservative ideology, and how those values are misunderstood and misrepresented amongst people my age.

After a lot of time, an entire legal pad, and a lot of caffeine, I realized that everything we conservatives tend to feel misunderstood about can be traced back to one, all-important core conservative value: one that has been twisted, sullied, and bastardized almost past the point of no return.

That “value” is the one of American Exceptionalism. It seems like more and more, the liberals in Washington—with the help of their friends in the MSM and their trusty minions in the field—are attempting to make it abundantly clear that it is no longer appropriate (or even acceptable) to regard America with anything more than a vague sort of partiality based only in necessity and relative fondness.

It disgusts me.

I do not believe that the conservative movement can once again take hold of this country without clearing away the liberal mythos surrounding American exceptionalism. As I said in my previous diary, this can’t happen without reaching out to the people of my generation. We’ve been steeping away in a sea of liberal dogma ever since we learned about self-esteem in conjunction with our ABC’s. Since I can remember, I have been encouraged to learn about other countries, embrace other cultures, and above all, to never put myself above others. I was told I was unique and special—just like every other unique and special kid in the room.

I don’t believe this sort of mindset works when it comes to preserving and protecting a place that is firmly planted in the sights of every hostile country with a missile powerful enough to reach our shores. It must be shaken loose. It’s time for this country’s world to be rocked, and I think we would do well to begin the rocking with my generation.

When I first got the idea for this diary, I made a note on Facebook which posed a simple question: How do you feel about American exceptionalism? I’ve posted a few of their responses below, along with my own pithy commentary, because I could not simply let them get away with everything they said, even if they are among my closest friends.

I think that American Exceptionalism is very much alive and well and perhaps ridiculous. While it’s nice to walk around our continent feeling smug and wonderful because we are not easily accessible by train to the French, this country’s attitude has changed from being “the land of the free” to the “land of the privileged and if you’re not from here you should be mowing…” What really irks me recently, is the turned noses at anything un-American; such as when Bollywood creates spectacular films or foreign carmakers are inventing hybrids or energy efficient cars that are completely ignored. It’s ethnocentrism, and the media (tv, films) have portrayed other countries and cultures as clichés for so long that Americans are beginning to believe it. It’s kind of dehumanizing… So yeah, exceptionalism is cool, because we can believe that we are striving to be exceptional and different and the best in the world, but lately it’s ridiculous…

My friend here has a completely valid point. From what I’ve seen, we live in a time that embraces cultural diversity when it’s related to something new or trendy. (Think belly dancing lessons, or those Chinese character tattoos people were so crazy about.) This in itself is disappointing; people who miss out on other cultures miss out on much indeed. However, I think his accusation regarding America’s “attitude” is somewhat off-base. I can only assume that he is referring to the so-called “conservative” viewpoint that America is the Land of the Americans, so by all means let’s build us a fence and keep them damn foreigners out before they take over (‘cause dammit you know they’re tryin’!) What so many people don’t get is that there is a difference between believing that this country is great, and believing that everyone else’s country sucks.

I’m going to have to go once was, but is no more. I think the erosion of our desire to be exceptional is partially due to becoming complacent with our success. Also, I think a lot of it has to do with the (let’s just say it) liberal media and borderline socialist academic institutions that shape the minds of our leaders. That and the fact that we’ve gradually but surely forgotten that this country was founded on self-reliance and limited government. The prevailing mood in this country (at least temporarily, the pendulum swings back and forth) is that we are merely just another country in the world, one of many. That could not be farther from the truth. It was the American Revolution that indirectly overthrew the monarchies of Europe and led to democracies throughout the world. No country in the history of the world has done more to further the human condition (economically and politically) than the United States of America. It’s a shame that our president does not understand this.

Overall, I think he’s right…at least on a philosophical level. The pendulum has indeed swung back into Leftie territory. People have disregarded history, forgotten how we got to where we are, and refused to acknowledge what we have to do to keep ourselves going. What I disagree with is that American exceptionalism is “no more.” I think that, just as it always does, the pendulum will swing back to a place where it will once more be acceptable to love your country (and your neighbor) as you love yourself.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of our achievements. We’ve been the light of the world for a very long time, and certainly remain so in many ways. The problem occurs when we become guilty of hubris. Just because we have a great country with a grand tradition doesn’t make it all right for us to run roughshod over the other people, err…countries, on the block. By all means, we should remain bold and wise, and we should certainly retain our place as the leading nation of nations. But we should retain our humility, even as we recognize our excellence. To break it down to a sports analogy, take Peyton Manning as opposed to Michael Vick. Both are exceptional athletes. Both have lead teams down the road of victory, and garnered great accolades. Michael Vick was too cool for school, and believed he was above the rules. He often showcased at the expense of his team. Peyton Manning has his flaws, but he owns up to them, and is the focal point of his team because of his leadership and humility. He knows that while he is the best person on the team, he is still only as successful as his O-line, his receivers, his running back, and his defense. One of them has a Superbowl ring. The other has an ankle ring. Perhaps attitude has something to do with it?

I started off nodding along with this one, because I firmly believe there’s a difference between believing in your country, and damning/bowling over/laying waste to the rest. Then I got to the part where we’re owning up to our flaws and being humble, and I could have sworn that Barack Obama was masquerading as one of my Facebook friends! (I kid! I kid!…mostly.)

Listen. I, along with most reasonable people, do not believe that America has a mandate to crusade around the globe, converting the savages and building Wal-Marts in third world countries. However, the moment we stop acting like “the light of the world” and start shuffling around with a sheepish look on our face is the moment we lose our credibility when it comes to standing up to sleazebags like Ahmedinejad and Putin. For so long, America has been the exception proving the rule. Our self-realized uniqueness as a global power has been integrated into foreign and domestic policy for a very long time; once we start backtracking and making reparations (yes, I said REPARATIONS) for years and years of legitimate ideological conflict, people might just begin to wonder if America really stands for what she says she stands for—and if she might be bent into submission.

American Exceptionalism is an esoteric term that is easily translated into another esoteric term, “jingoism”. It is a narrow minded, knee jerk response to charges of hypocrisy when the City on the Hill does something while proactively prohibiting the same actions from others. So, in short, I say “nay.”

Yes…there’s really nothing to say to this. I mean, I suppose I could mention the fact that American exceptionalism dates back much farther than the conservative-hating, finger-pointing, spoon-banging smear “doctrine” liberals cling to. I could also mention that there is a fundamental difference between believing your country is perfect, and believing that your country is special. However, that would be pointless because people who espouse this belief also hold fast to the idea that people like me are nothing but deluded, warmongering, dogmatic hypocrites…so why bother? (Note: the person who wrote this response is indeed a friend of mine. When it comes to politics, we oscillate between complete détente and occasional saber-rattling. The impossible…now possible!)

That would be hell yes. And I’m so disappointed that our current President disagrees. He cries about how we are 5% of the world’s population but use 25% of the resources like that’s a bad thing. He would like us to be more like Zimbabwe. I’m glad that I live in the greatest country in the world and know that our country is not so great at the expense of others, but that our country is incredibly supportive of other countries such as President Bush’s Africa AIDS assistance.

HELL YEAH!

Here we are: the few, the proud, the young Americans who are willing to stand up for the greatness of this country without conditions, exceptions, or equivocations. Who can say without a guilty conscience that America is indeed the greatest country in the world, and that we got where we are by honest sweat, blood, and gumption.

Maintaining the integrity of this viewpoint is so, so important. All the frustration with President Obama aside, this really gets to the heart of what American exceptionalism means. It’s not about running roughshod or imposing values, or using and losing our allies when it’s convenient. It’s not just waving a flag on Independence Day, or proving a point by sewing a patch on your backpack next time you travel to Europe. What it is about is falling in love with America, and having faith in the ideals she was founded on. It’s about standing up for her principles, and defending her when those principles are threatened.

I had a long discussion with a friend about all of this, and I think he had a great point when he said that he was fine with sitting down and discussing solutions and issues with other people, as long as at the end of the day, you can still tell those other people that they’re wrong. It goes back to the fundamental idea that we are indeed exceptional, and that means that we aren’t obligated to go along with solutions that are inconsistent with our ideas of right.

So, here’s what we’re up against. This is what we need to fix before we can even begin to regain a conservative hold on the hearts and minds of young Americans. It won’t be easy, and it might take a while, but I think it can be done—because sooner or later, people will realize that while it’s fine and dandy to always play nice with the rest of the world, it’s going to take a lot more than “robust debate” to maintain our reputation as a City on a Hill.

Crossposted at The Minority Report

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