Conservatives speak quite a bit about American exceptionalism. When they do, they’re not saying that Americans are inherently greater than people from any other country. What they’re saying is that at the foundation of the country – articulated in the Constitution – is a premise that is greater, and more important, than that of any other country on earth.
What sets the United States apart from any other nation on earth is that we live under the idea that everyone has an equal right to pursue life, liberty and happiness and that these rights are given to us by a higher power. This prevents our government from presuming that they are handing out rights or that they can take any away.
The Constitution puts the emphasis on the responsibilities and greatness of the individual while other countries focus on the collective.
This is key because the writers of the Constitution knew that left to their own devices, people will try and support themselves, their families and their communities. They will try and be productive, and they will take care of, on their own, their neighbors in need.
Other governments mistake the word equality for equality of results. They try to create a society in which everyone has the same things, pays the same amount, makes the same salary – essentially, a society in which no one is exceptional.
The Constitution presupposes that everyone can be exceptional. And when left to pursue their potential, people will contribute something important, if not great, to society. It says that in a free market, with the members of society determining the supplies and demands, society will steer itself toward productivity, innovation and charity.
For more than 240 years, this has been proven right. With a society based on a free market system, America is a world leader and a country to which millions have fled. America offers the possibility of a life that other countries simply do not. And these countries from which people flee are nearly all based on some more liberal form of government than our own.
Conservatism is often misinterpreted as espousing “every man for himself, at the expense of everyone else.” In fact, it’s every individual taking care of their own backyard first, so he’s in a position to help others next. The result is a society in which the blend of individual work and care equals a society of individuals who care for and add value to each other.
One of the byproducts of American exceptionalism is the amount of charity we give to the rest of the world. Name an international crisis, and the United States is the leader in providing aide, comfort, and support. We give more money, more supplies and more volunteer time than any other country in the world. And when one country is endangered by another, we’re there to keep the peace – even if through force.
I remember going to the Soviet Union and being nervous because I only knew them as the Evil Empire. (I grew up in the Reagan era.) What I found when I got there was that the people there were just like the people in the United States. Most everyone was friendly and wanting to help and show me around.
Conservatives don’t believe American people are better. They simply believe that our country is better because it allows people to be who they are. Many of those I met in Russia agreed.
The people who showed me their homes and cities in Russia made it clear that they simply aren’t allowed the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States. Yet, here in America, while conservatives are fighting for the capitalist, free market form of government that made us great, some want a more centralized form of government that emulates the failed Soviet Union.
When I returned home from a year abroad, I had never truly appreciated the United States the way I did then. Those of us born here are simply the most fortunate souls on the planet, and we have a responsibility to do what we can to teach others to live free the way we do. For in living free, people are able to pursue their own form of greatness and society prospers because of it.
It appears to me that some of the discomfort some feel at the thought of American greatness is inspired by feelings of guilt. They see and appreciate the lifestyles we live and see those of poorer countries and feel that it’s not right. That it’s unfair.
And one could argue it is unfair. But life is not fair. We could either sit and lament all we have while others have so little. But instead, I believe we should lead by example and inspire.
If we can show the rest of the world what is possible for them, we might encourage more people to either come to America, or better, move their own country toward a freedom-based democracy.