Is America Exceptional?

Yes, but should we say so?

Democrat Barak Obama began his first term as U.S. president by subtly saying that the U.S. should exhibit some humility, admit past mistakes, if not sins, and not try to enforce its will on other nations. Republicans criticized him a lot for this, even accusing him of not being patriotic. That was even a more serious charge for this president since he’s black. Why? It had the potential for seriously increasing racial conflict.

Last Tuesday night, President Obama spoke to our nation of television primarily about the crisis in Syria in the Middle East. It has been undergoing a civil war for two years that is mostly about Islamic sectarianism and as resulted in 100,000 deaths. Last month, chemical weapons were used killing an estimated 1,400 people which included many children. Obama then asked Congress to vote on his proposal for the U.S. military to do a surgical strike on Syria’s chemical weapons, trying to destroy all of them. But polls have shown that a large majority of war-weary Americans oppose such an action. And members of Congress have felt pressured from their constituents so that it seems the president might not get a positive vote on it in Congress.

In the president’s speech, he said the U.S. has been an “exceptional” nation. This remark has caused some chatter worldwide. The New York Times did something unusual by publishing an Op Ed piece yesterday by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he criticized President Obama for making that remark.

Has the U.S. been an exceptional nation? Yes. It has been the model for, and leader of, democracy in the world. The world has been following in our footsteps, with nation after nation adopting a democratic form of government. The U.S. has been a beacon of light to the world, an administer of justice with one exception, the champion of freedom, and therefore the land of opportunity. Look at all the people around the world who want to come and live in the United States of America.

But should our president say to the nation, and thus the world, that America is “exceptional”? At first glance, I’d say “no.” Putin says it smacks of arrogance. Indeed, a proverb in the Bible says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27.2). Proverbs are wisdom sayings. Although this proverb is directed toward individuals, I think it applies to nations as well.

But look who said America is exceptional–America’s first black president in over 230 years! What is the one exception about America not administering justice? A hundred years of black slavery! Even though our Constitution indirectly condemned the practice, our nation practiced it without impunity and therefore our nation was hypocritical about it. Because of this black mark on American history, I say cut President Barak Obama some slack about saying the U.S. is “exceptional.”

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