I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of political candidates give speeches and make statements that point towards how special America is. Maybe it’s the bluster of a candidate who will “Make America Great Again” or who are “Reigniting the Promise of America.” Or maybe it’s the promise for “A New American Century.” Or better yet, in order to fulfill our special call maybe we’ll need the right person in charge who knows that “A political revolution is coming.” Because you know, “Everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion.”
All of these slogans are from actual candidates running for President. And there are plenty of other ones – you don’t have to be running for President to have a slogan like that – just a big enough ego.
Which brings me to my next point – why do we do this? What are seeking? Purpose? A reason? Does being special or exceptional make us different? Does it mean we don’t have to suffer the same fate as other nations? Or suffer the same difficulties and problems that other nations face? Is it our way of deluding ourselves into thinking that we are somehow different as a people – somehow blessed by God in a special way. Is it the political version of the Prosperity Gospel.
Brian Zahnd, a pastor I love to quote, wrote about this topic so eloquently. You should really read his whole article. Here’s one quote that pertains to what I’m talking about:
American Exceptionalism: The theory that the United States occupies a special place among the nations of the world and possesses a unique destiny in history.
I’ve heard it said, “American Exceptionalism is simply a fact.”
I’m sure it is.
Just like Greek Exceptionalism and Roman Exceptionalism and British Exceptionalism were facts too.
If you’re not exceptional, you’re just another nation.
The interesting thing about this, for me, is the history. American exceptionalism is really not that special – it’s just like all the other nations who thought they were special. Some of those nations still exist, but are no longer superpowers, some have faded into history. At some point, so will ours. Because nations are a human invention and temporary. They are just lines drawn on a piece of paper (or computer screen). The borders have changed innumerable times over history. And they will continue to change.
Last year, my family and I lived in Europe. And one of the things I loved about being there was the history. I learned about it, I visited it, I took it in. Here’s an observation that I’ve been alluding to in other blog posts – every nation that considered themselves “great” has taken up the mantle of Rome. They’ve believed they were the heirs of Rome. You know Rome – the great empire that ruled the “known” world. It may be the most idealized notion of exceptionalism that humanity has ever imagined. We idealize Rome. It was the ultimate in power and might for so long.
We still idealize them – and not just here in the US. Look around the globe. Look at the Roman architecture. Look at the use of the eagle. Look at the structure of law. Look at the might of militaries. Look at the notion of strong leadership. Everyone wants to be Rome. This has been going on since Rome fell. And Rome did fall. It wasn’t too big to fail. In fact, it was too big not to fail. Just like every human empire that has ever existed or ever will.
But even Roman exceptionalism isn’t unique. Rome stole the idea from the Greeks. And the Greeks stole the idea from the ancient civilizations of the Middle East – the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Assyrians. Who knows who these “great” civilizations stole the idea from. Exceptionalism isn’t unique to America or any other “great” nation that has walked the earth. In fact, it’s rather common and predictable when you think about it.