Are Americans exceptional? We debate this question endlessly. Especially near our Fourth of July.
Years ago on The Fourth a friend from China strolled along the Hudson with me in New York. He asked about my radio and tv shows. Asked: Do you ever criticize government on radio and tv? (Yes.) Oooh. Criticize president? (Yes.) Oooh. Government officials read scripts? (No.) Oooh. Anyone censor scripts? (No.) He asked similar questions about my newspaper columns and book. And I gave the same answers.
He walked in silence for a while. Finally he said “Well, my friend, in China you be in jail.”
In many countries I be in jail. Or my opinions be banned. Jobs and opportunities be closed to me and my family.
In these countries the governing system would not protect me. In some, the system would destroy me. In America the system protects me. It protects all of us in countless ways. That, to me, is the exceptionalism.
Are Americans exceptional?
The men who wrote the Declaration were exceptional. Those who wrote the Constitution were. They not only knew history. They took it to heart. That was exceptional.
They knew tyrants had trod on people for centuries. They knew governments had treated people as scum. And so, they guaranteed various rights for the people. For you and me. In this, they were exceptional.
They knew governments had failed when judges usurped power from congresses. They knew rulers had quashed judges. They knew congresses had guillotined rulers.
And so they balanced such powers between courts, chief executives and lawmakers. In this they were exceptional.
They knew governments had stolen property from citizens. And citizens had no redress. They knew rulers had planted themselves in office for life. Some had grown incompetent. Some had ignored laws. And their people were helpless to remove them.
And so the founders gave powers to the people to combat such abuses. In this they were exceptional.
They knew from history that central governments grew ever larger. Smothering local governments and citizens. And so they wrote limits to central government into the Constitution. In this they were exceptional.
They knew some systems failed because they were brittle. They did not flex with changing times. And so, the founders created mechanisms to let us amend our Constitution. In this they were exceptional.
Are Americans exceptional? In many ways, yes. But it is their system which is most exceptional. This explains why people from horrible countries have done so well here. They left abominable systems that crushed them. They came to live and work under a system that allowed them freedom to thrive – or fail. An exceptional system.
I revere our Constitution. I revere the system it created. When our leaders tamper with it, they send shudders down my spine. When they discover rights and privileges in it that require triple somersaults in logic, I worry.
They trouble me when they ignore parts of it. When they take pride in doing so. They trouble me when they find ridiculous loopholes. In this they ignore the obvious intent of the founders.
You see, in doing such damage they are not exceptional. They are doing exactly what those who destroyed societies in the past did. While expecting different results.
Our founders were exceptional. They created an exceptional system. Those who strive to abide by it and strengthen it are the exceptional Americans.
From Tom...as in Morgan.