Is America exceptional?
Last week’s spectacle of Russia’s President writing an op-ed in the New York Times chiding Americans was surreal. Especially when he all but quoted the Declaration of Independence to admonish us for considering America as exceptional. What’s going on?
Apart from the irony of seeing our former Cold War antagonist lecture Americans on American values, does he have a point? Is it truly dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional? I would submit that it depends on what the exception is. If a people see themselves as especially chosen to bring civilization or prosperity or purity or character to a benighted world, that can be dangerous. That view arguably led to all kinds of abuses during the Age of Empires—and even World War I and the Russian Revolution.
But if the exceptionalism is one of origins, of coming together rather than going out, of ideals rather than ideology, that’s different. And it can be measured. Just look at the number of people who want to move here: almost 140 million, by one estimate—over three times the next most popular destination, England. (And 25 times the number who would rather move to Russia.)
That’s an exceptionalism that seeks to be a light, not a burden—that has a decent respect for all peoples. One based on choice and trust.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer