Matt Miller on Whether America Exceptionalism is Still Alive

Question: Is the idea that Americans are exceptional still a driver of success?

Miller:    I think that we will always, you know, because of our Constitution, our kind of unique commitment to freedom and equality even if it’s been imperfect over, you know, a few hundred years, but kind of marched toward that more perfect union and the individualism and the chance for individuals to make a go of it is something that’s been a magnet for immigrants and the immigrant imagination and really the world imagination I think that’s all powerful.  I think where we’ve hit the wall is that in economic terms just as a matter of reality, the age of American exceptionalism is coming to an end.  You know, the postwar period when we were the only economy left standing and we’ve had a great run for 50, 65 years, that was, you know, that can’t last forever.  And as these other nations rise up from humanities point of view, it’s a wonderful thing.  You’ve got hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty in China and India.  And as they rise, that will be, you know, they’ll make greater cause for freedom.  You know, a lot of the ideals that we cherish will be realized abroad when those folks have a better economic toehold, but we just have to realize that we’re not calling the shots and we’re not in as much control uniquely of our economic destiny as we used to be.  That’s kind of a, it’s a sort of a growing up that we have to do because the periods since World War II was in some sense an exception itself.  You know, we found ourselves in this unique situation.  It doesn’t mean we won’t still be an incredible world leader and a powerful force for good through the power of ideals.  But I think that the fact that that year is ending where we stood astride the globe alone economically means that we just have to rethink some of the way we decide we want to have a decent society, and I think, in particular, the fact that we were on top for so long in this way has led us as a culture to overestimate the power of the individual to shape his own economic destiny in a way that I think now is going to require some rebalancing and I think that one of the things we’ll see then and the year ahead is that there are things we have to do as a community, like, basic health coverage.  We have to make sure, as a community, that that’s something that every American enjoys and not just leave it to the kind of random wind of whether you happen to work for a large employer who offers that.  You know, those are some of the kind of dead ideas that just won’t make sense in an era when we’re competing globally against all these other countries.

The author talks about reframing how we see ourselves vis-à-vis the globe.

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