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Will the American experiment endure?
As many believe the country is in crisis, such a question will indeed be asked amid celebrations and be the subject of many reflections. Are there still reasons to be patriotic? Was America ever great to begin with?
In the current scene, there is word that confidence in America is decreasing. There are those who think Donald Trump poses a unique threat to its survival as he moves America towards the abyss with his warped understanding of the Presidency. There are those of more composed temperament who look objectively at the corrosive political culture that has manifested itself, of which Trump has been both a facilitator and a product. Of course, there is also the wokescolds that direct their tongue-lashings towards America’s foundations, and aspire to be the ones to dismantle them while giving voters a million and ten reasons to vote Trump back in. They are surely using the occasion to try and explain why their delusional insurrection must prevail. To them, America is nothing but a podium on which oppressors have stood to preserve their power and privilege while violating the “Other.” Such demagoguery has taken the broader culture, and many have embraced it as a way to adequately oppose Trump.
Seeing the opportunity for social aggrandizement, Nike has pulled a tennis shoe that had a design that included a Betsy Ross-era American flag. Obviously done to preemptively thwart an outrage campaign, this was at the behest of the quarterback turned activist Colin Kaepernick, who complained that it had offensive “racial undertones” and connections to slavery. “Very well, Comrade Kaepernick,” must have said the converted wokescolds at Nike. So, too, did some of the Democratic candidates, with a few of them urging Americans to be cognizant of the pain such a symbol might impose on minorities. Michael Eric Dyson, the academic and wannabe sesquipedalian who race-baits incessantly, took it up a notch by comparing the star spangled banner to the swastika. This incendiary rhetoric comes from a wretched view of the history of the American project—the same project that has granted Kaepernick and Dyson the opportunity to live a luxurious life while they defile it.
The mainstreaming of self-flagellation and masochistic denial of a country’s worth is sad to see, especially as a Canadian who loves America. Bastardizing American exceptionalism—the idea first articulated by Alexis de Tocqueville that America is a unique nation due to its founding ideologies and institutions—is common in the academy and has become more and more popular. I regretfully recall one of my professors expressing her glee that anyone arguing in favour of exceptionalism was losing influence. And you hear these sorts of things at the Oscars, on debate stages, and in most of the mainstream media. Narratives from which one can only gather that America is racist and malevolent are the ones that prevail. Constant self- criticism is necessary, but this phenomenon has given rise to a reflexive hatred of anything American. This is how a country loses sight of itself and its ideals.
In a recent video, the New York Times has ridiculed the idea of American exceptionalism, calling it a myth “packaged and sold to tiny patriots.” Why? Because some recent data shows that despite America being one of the richest countries, it has a high poverty rate compared to other countries, the educational system is abysmal, and less people are voting.
A rising number seems to think American exceptionalism is a propagandistic concept peddled only by brainwashed jingoists that are entranced by Donald Trump and know nothing of the outside world. But this evinces a comical misunderstanding of the concept they’re laboriously attempting to refute.
American exceptionalism isn’t measured by whoever the President is at the time, or how good the economy might be at the current hour. It is not contingent upon how America stands in terms of its material wealth. Though Trump might think of himself as having the prestige of a king that should rule by divine right, Presidents always have to change. And economies will always oscillate.
What makes America exceptional is its ideals, eternally codified in its Constitution, and aptly epitomized by Thomas Jefferson’s central proposal in the Declaration of Independence. In his mythogenic prose, he famously wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.” And to secure these rights, “Governments are instituted Among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Deriving from this is the idea that rights are the antecedent to government, not the other way around. The government’s function is to protect these liberties, and the Constitution lays out a system by which a government can best do so. Knowing the novelty they had created, Jefferson once told James Madison that he was “persuaded no Constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire and self-government.” A bleeding heart may gasp at the mention of “empire,” but the contention is true. What makes the Constitution truly revolutionary is it’s understanding of human nature, and that there are natural ambitions that may lead to tyrannical pursuits. As Madison trenchantly put it in Federalist 51:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Therefore, the system and the Constitution are constructed in anticipation of someone with Donald Trump’s excesses. Despite all the mishaps and the existent need to rein in the executive branch, the Founders’ vision has proven to be durable for the most part.
And such things are reasons why I say, with confidence, that the American Revolution is simply the greatest revolution ever. Who can repudiate the product of George Washington’s honour, Thomas Jefferson’s ingenuity, and the genius of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton? I’ve heard people idolize the Communist and French revolutions, but can they argue in earnest that those did more for humanity? With their leaders seeing individuals as useful only as tools for the collective, and the large death tolls because of such repressive thinking, I think not.
The American ideal won the twentieth century conflicts against totalitarianism, and such a victory allowed freedom and prosperity to spread to all corners of the globe. But despite the good America has done, anti-American demagogues maintain that America was founded upon slavery, rendering it fundamentally immoral—a dangerous fiction. The American ideal won here, too. It’s a fact the Founders hypocritically owned slaves and never worked to end it like they could have, but they also acknowledged its inherent evil and desired its eventual eradication. One example of this is that in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson lambasted King George and the horrors of slavery:
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither.
What is also at odds with the notion that America is scrofulous at its root is the fact that those whose legacy the woke types think they’re honouring didn’t rebuke the American ideal, they embodied it. Frederick Douglass, for example, called the Constitution a “GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT”—a great weapon for abolition—and deemed slavery a betrayal of it. Martin Luther King Jr. once described his mission as one to bring the nation back to the “great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” Emancipation and civil rights were a fulfillment of the American ideal, not a repudiation of it.
I also write all this because of the Canadian anti-Americanism that has always existed, but has increased in the age of Trump. To some extent, some Canadians have often held a supercilious view of Americans. And this may be because of our origins. We essentially attained our right to self-government peacefully, while the Americans embarked on a turbulent revolution to achieve independence. Out of our origins, as people like Seymour Lipset observed, Canadians may have a more positive, communitarian vision of the government whereas the American ideal is more individualistic, extolling a more negative, anti-statist view of the government. Some, like George Grant (for whom I have tremendous respect as a thinker), have been hostile towards America, thinking it has had a detrimental influence on Canada. I disagree. While we must always remain our own nation, there is no denying that our continental relationship has been profitable. Besides, there’s much we should be envious of when it comes to the American practice of limited government.
Take our approaches to speech. The First Amendment states plainly that the government cannot design laws that will curtail freedom of speech, thereby codifying an absolutist attitude. While Section One of the Charter declares that all guaranteed rights could be subjected to “reasonable limits” as can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The consequences of these differences have had particular salience recently. While Trudeau has joined censorship initiatives like the Christchurch Pact, the American government has rejected them as the law of the land demands it does.
As the march for free speech continues, having such a bulwark against government intrusion would obviously be an asset.
But this is only a smidgen of the reality that might be inconvenient to America’s detractors. Though it might be heretical to say this, America will always remain the grandest protector of liberty.
With this said, Americans mustn’t become amnesiacs, and allow their inheritance to be desecrated. They should remain optimistic since they have more to be proud of than ashamed of. Their Constitution and ethos continues to be an example for freedom-lovers the world over, and they should always be reminded of that. I, as a Canadian, believe in American exceptionalism, and Americans should, too. For it existed before Trump and wokeness, and will continue to after the curtain is closed on both. The foundation Jefferson and Co. laid almost 300 years ago is imperishable.
Americans should always rejoice in their remarkable achievements and the tradition that was so studiously established by their founders. And should not only do so this week, but daily. On that note, happy birthday, America!