American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism:

What Is It?  Is It Genuine?

Why Does It Matter?

Can we do anything to

“Protect, Defend, and Preserve” it?

By: Pem Schaeffer

[email protected]

October 6, 2021


“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”   Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

There are lots of words like that; they invoke an immediate connotation, while the word itself means something else entirely.  This is when critical thought often goes missing in action.  Consider “exceptional” as applied in “American Exceptionalism.”

I’ve always thought the root of the word is exception; as in “an exception to the rule.”  No judgment as to whether the exception is good or bad; just an indication that it departs from the ordinary.  Or, “in your case, we’ll make an exception.”  As in those streaming across our southern border being allowed to do, without application of relevant law or health protocols imposed on citizen residents across the land. confirms this, with words like “forming an exception or rare instance; unusual” for the adjective, and “uniqueness” for the noun form.

It’s apparent in most articles, and in “person on the street” interviews on TV, that the default interpretation of American Exceptionalism is that the US is superior to all other countries.

In interviews of college students recently, responses tended to “I don’t think America is anything special,” or “America isn’t all that great.”  Actual responses were littered with “like,” which must be the prevailing substitute for “uhh….” given its repeated use.  Or it derives from relentless pursuit of “likes” on social media that burns it in the mind and on the tongue.  So, along with gender dysphoria and other socially constructed ailments, America dysphoria is now afflicting the young.

How could we expect anything less?  Our nation is knee deep in a swamp of self-loathing because we’re hosed down daily with it from the attitude formation industry and every institution that was once central to American life.  Print and electronic media; so called entertainment; Hollowood; public education; higher education and the nihilist academics that infest it like tree locusts; and all too many elected officials and their sycophants.

Most of all “big-tech,” largely in the almighties of “Social Media,” who have become American oligarchs pushing “free” afflictions like anxiety, depression, self-hatred, and manic pursuit of “engagement,” or more correctly, addiction.  Is it any wonder murder and suicide statistics are going through the roof?  And that self-loathing is morphing into self-destruction and extermination of the icons, symbols, and mores of what used to be the glorious American experiment?  The innovator who can come up with a “Narcan” for this addiction could save many a soul, and likely much more.

When big tech oligarchs control ALL information flow, and are privy to ALL our personal information and behaviors, is it any wonder they’re infusing, not at all subtly, their personal ideologies and prejudices into the waters that carry the information flow?

Among other things, the mistaken interpretation of American Exceptionalism reflects a lack of critical thinking skills at the very least, especially among the young, .and those in college in particular.

My understanding of American Exceptionalism came something like 20 years ago, and it might have been from Rush Limbaugh on one of his daily shows, or something I read.  No matter, my conviction is this: virtually every other country has been founded and organized on the basis of tribal uniformity and protection of borders.  America, on the other hand, is unique – or exceptional – because it is founded on ideals, not tribalism.

In simple terms, I believe that American Exceptionalism is defined for all to see by these words in the Declaration of Independence:

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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 the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

That is, America’s founding was driven by and based on strongly held ideas and ideals, not tribal uniformity.  Which makes America an exception among nations of our world, and therefore, exceptional.    Not necessarily superior, but unique among nations.  Inherent in the founding ideals is that our individuality – for each of us – surpasses the group identity that dominates tribal cultures.

Without roots, a tree cannot grow, thrive, and prosper.   Our endowed rights and principles described in the Declaration are the foundational roots of America’s tree of liberty.  Similarly, if you don’t believe that 1+1=2, you shouldn’t oversee your own finances; without “ground,” there can be no magic of electricity and all that derives from it.

My conviction is that liberty is the highest expression of humanity.

Those who embrace group identity over individualism believe government is the highest expression of humanity.  America will surely fall if the former triumphs over the latter.  Without liberty, you and I cannot become the personification of our dreams and destiny.


Philanthropist Tom Klingenstein expresses his concerns on the subject in these words:

We simply cannot teach our citizens, current and future, that their country is no good and expect to have a country for very long. No country can survive on a diet of endless self-loathing. We need to teach our citizens to love and cherish their country. And we need to stop wallowing in our sins of racism. We are talking ourselves into ruin. As far as I can tell, all this talk about racism has brought us nothing but hardship for blacks, division, and race hustlers. Let’s instead talk about what we Americans have in common, and let’s start judging Americans by the content of their character.

Anthropology Professor Peter Wood gives a similar warning:

We are atoning for our smallness, our lack of confidence in ourselves as a worthy nation, our diminished faith in the future, and our lack of Teddy’s robust delight in splendor of this world.  We represent our society in our mind’s eye not in sweeping vistas or soaring skyscrapers, but in the squalor of tent cities, the incompetence of social justice maundering elites, and in the cachinnations of proud fools. If ill-intended people offer us stories about how bad our forebears were and how undeserving we too must be, we lend them an ear. We think, maybe so.  

Only a society that sees a need for ‘self-esteem’ counseling could be so susceptible to such destructive illusions. It isn’t hard to convince those living in dry discontent to switch to all-encompassing condemnation instead. Misery loves not just company but the larger consolation that every seemingly good thing masks an inner rot.

Victor Davis Hanson ended a recent column with this:

America is history’s aberration. Those now trying to tear it down are the same familiar suspects over the last 2,500 years, who despise consensual government and the middle classes who preserve it.

What Are We to Do?

Here are some thoughts to kick start things:

  • Recognize that patriotism, exceptionalism, the flag, and love of country are most of all about American founding principles and the innate goodness of its people, and least of all about the federal government.
  • The Washington Monument is a beautiful thing, but given its location and age, it has about it an inescapable linkage with Government.  Let’s decide here and now that we need an American Monument, located somewhere near the geographic centroid of our country, high on a knoll, where it can symbolize “a shining city upon a hill.”  We should then set about surrounding it with a “city” of other buildings and suitable monuments to the founding and the framing of this great, but imperfect country.  On the same site, create a second-generation Mount Suribachi, perhaps showing the original founders planting America and its flag in our soil.  Let other attractions and development arise around the location to become the focus and manifestation of love of America.
  • Maybe we should call the shining city Celebration and build Heritage America Park in it.
  • Find the next John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and George M. Cohan to produce memorable and inspiring entertainment for all, and especially our youth.  Let an industry grow around the shining hill devoted to doing so.  Include a second generation “Tin Pan Alley” where the next Irving Berlin and similar tunesmiths can compose a new American Songbook, along with those who can orchestrate and sing it with respect and affection for the gifts of talent and freedom and the American soil upon which they reside and prosper.
  • Recruit and inspire our next “Greatest Generation” of patriots marching in a parade proudly singing the new Cohan’s “Over Here, Over Here…” as a successor to the original’s “Over There, Over There”.  Let them be the symbol of our renewed determination to defeat the “Axis Powers of Wokeness” in our greatest struggle yet to preserve and defend our nation and its founding principles.  Let this usher in the next “Great American Awakening” as we do.
  • Hold multiple annual parades and fireworks celebrations at the new American Monument Park with stirring concerts and other symbols of the civic pride we once shared as Americans.
  • Stop the wrecking ball administration of the progressives and Joe Biden and his corruptocrats that want to turn “the land of the free” into the West Side Story vision of “everything free in America.”  Once and for all, face up to the paradox that if America is so flawed, so evil, and so irredeemable without tyrannical government, why is it that untold millions will sacrifice virtually everything, including the safety of their family, to make their future here.
  • Realize that we have reached the juncture where President Reagan’s quote is no longer just a curiosity, but an imperative for us to rouse the sleeping dogs and the silent majority to join in the next great awakening:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

You may think I’m just spit-balling here, but I’m not.  I’m deadly serious.  In my working life, I spent more weeks in Washington doing business with the government than anyone should have to.  Lovely as much of the capital is, it’s impossible to escape the political and highly partisan atmospherics in the air you breathe there.  Which makes it impossible to bask in the American Exceptionalism that transcends the bricks and mortar.

One last thing.  Why is it that so many swamp dwelling elites oppose “nation building” elsewhere, but can’t get enough “nation wrecking” here in our America?  Can’t they see the irony?

Of course, they can’t; they’re too busy being important to do that.

Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

Autrey Logo


Stay Up to Date

Follow Us