Revisiting the concept of American Exceptionalism

In the post BREXIT, post liberal secular Progressive world of a Trump Presidency, it is politic to revisit the concept of American Exceptionalism.


American exceptionalism is based on the Lockean premise that the State is designed to protect an individual’s rights. Most of America’s adversaries still operate on the notion that an individual’s rights must be suppressed to preserve the state. This distinction is what makes America not just a place on the map but an idea — and a powerful on at that.

The Foreign Policy minefield that awaits the Trump presidency will exacerbate the core demand that the Western democracies shoulder their share of the defence expenditures.The US can no longer be expected to shoulder the lion’s share of the collective defence of the West.

Washington will be working with prickly allies such as the Philippines and Turkey who are also ket strategic partners nonetheless, in trying geopolitical times. A deft diplomatic touch is required and the candidate for the position of Secretary of State in the Trump presidency will be key. John Bolton and Newt Gingrich have been mooted as potential Secretaries of State in Trump’s Cabinet. Either way it will have to be an individual with gravitas and experience.

In Europe the mere mention of “American exceptionalism” is often quickly met with scorn and derision that says more about Europe’s existential crisis than it does about American self image.  With the increasingly serious Chinese struggle with economic reform and Russia’s historical geo-political security dilemma, nobody wants the concept of American exceptionalism rubbed in their faces.

American exceptionalism is an ideal embodied in the right to vote (even if the path to that vote has been particularly toxic) and protected by checks and balances embedded in the U.S. system to downplay the role of personalities in politics.

In contrast to the clumsiness displayed over this election season, the founders who devised the system were sophisticated men and readers of classical texts, who looked to ancient Greece and Rome to avoid the follies of democracy. They excelled in building an enduring Republic in a land that they knew held extraordinary privilege by virtue of its unique geography and republican ideals. But America’s “favored soils” and democratic peace were however never something to take for granted. As Alexander Hamilton eloquently warned in the Federalist Papers No. 9:

“It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. If they exhibit occasional calms, these only serve as short-lived contrast to the furious storms that are to succeed. If now and then intervals of felicity open to view, we behold them with a mixture of regret, arising from the reflection that the pleasing scenes before us are soon to be overwhelmed by the tempestuous waves of sedition and party rage. If momentary rays of glory break forth from the gloom, while they dazzle us with a transient and fleeting brilliancy, they at the same time admonish us to lament that the vices of government should pervert the direction and tarnish the lustre of those bright talents and exalted endowments for which the favored soils that produced them have been so justly celebrated.”

The United States of America should be reminded that it must resist the temptation to be dazzled by its own greatness. Maintaining a democratic Republic is hard work and that task will be essential to the United States’ ability to weather the economic and security storms ahead.