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On American Exceptionalism

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Though the cold war may have ended a couple decades ago, it seems as though Russia still isn’t too happy with us. After a speech in which President Obama referred to the United States and Americans as “exceptional,” Russian President Vladimir Putin took time out of his busy schedule of stealing championship rings and imprisoning bands with names like Pussy Riot to pen a letter to one of the United States’ largest metropolitan newspapers.

In an op-ed designed “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders,” Putin largely hit on issues regarding the debate over Syrian intervention and called out President Obama on his comments on American exceptionalism.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

People all across the country are pissed, and frankly, I am too.

Here’s the thing. I, like all of you, do believe America is exceptional. This is the country that transformed democracy from a philosophical idea into a functioning institution. This is the country that gives shelter to millions of immigrants escaping poverty, pestilence, and persecution, including our ancestors, and let them seize the opportunity to become leaders of the world. This is the country that, when called upon, sends her sons and daughters to fight and die in the name of liberty and justice. This is the country that I call home.

By all means, I know we’re not perfect but perfection is not a condition for exceptionalism. What does make us exceptional, however, is that even with these flaws, we, as a nation, are constantly seeking improvement. The United States of America is a country that is always moving forward. When we recognize a problem, we fix it, and we let the past remind us of where we came. We, as a nation, have the courage and the honesty to look back on the shortcomings of years gone by and realize the mistakes we may have made.

We have world-class universities, champion athletes, and scholars in every field. We have farmers, lawyers, teachers, and shopkeepers. We have billion dollar industries on Wall Street, as well as mom and pop stores on Main Street. We have people of every creed, color and calling, but despite our differences, we still all call ourselves Americans. Unlike Russia, when people practice a lifestyle that we don’t agree with or have different political view than ourselves, we don’t imprison them.

President Putin ended his op-ed by saying, “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” It’s funny that Putin should bring up such a notion, when the very people he’s speaking to are the ones who first drafted such a phrase in their Declaration of Independence and have since built a nation around the ideals of equality and opportunity. This, Mr. Putin, is what makes us exceptional.

While some nations are ruled by despots, America is led by democratically elected leaders. In some countries, people can’t own personal property or businesses, but in America, our lives are built upon that basic freedom. While some nations brutally persecute their people because of how they worship or what they believe, America welcomes all with open arms. While some nations foster lawlessness and tyranny, America promotes righteousness.

So, Mr. Putin, you are right in one way: all men and all countries are created equal and yet we are all different. We celebrate our differences and our “long democratic traditions” that have served as an example to the rest of the world. Maybe it’s time you take a good look at your country, take a page out of our book, and try to do the same.


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