American Exceptionalism and Egypt

Published 6:33 am Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I’ve never been to Egypt, but I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids. I think I’ll wait a few weeks or maybe even a few years. As I write this, it is Tuesday and they (television people) are predicting a million people in the streets of Cairo, all singing, “Na, Na, Na, Na…Hey, Hey, Hey Goodbye” to President Hosni Mubarak. I tell you the truth. Those Grady County people sure know how to celebrate!

Every now and then, we’ll have a million people in our capitol city of Washington. Sometimes they are there in a good mood and sometimes they are not, but up until now, we’ve not had to bring out the tanks. And our President has not had to pack his duffel bag so quickly and leave. Such is the exceptionalism of the American experience.

The word, exceptional, was first associated with the American experiment by that great French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the first half of the nineteenth century. The new world was of great interest to the Europeans and de Tocqueville came to chronicle it. His book, Democracy in America, was a result of his travel and he spoke very positively of this country.

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The “exceptional” word was included as he wrote: “The position of the Americans is quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one.” He went on to allow that the settlers of this new land were God-oriented, though not so much that they had holier than thou hypocrisies.

De Tocqueville could see the vast natural resources of this new land and the inherent goodness and strength of these settlers. They were practical people, not confused wanderers anxious to carry on the old ways that had been left behind. They were satisfied to attach themselves to new dreams and hopes. They were exceptional people in a new and exceptional land.

American exceptionalism is a popular phrase these days. After the President’s State of the Union speech, many chided him for not mentioning the special nature of the American people and country. To be honest, I wasn’t listening that closely. It’s hard for me to remember all that he says and I don’t worry about that because I know the television people are going to tell me over and over and over what he said. Or at least what they want me to know.

I have been thinking, though, about the phrase which doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans are superior people. I think we are great people, but I am not ready to say that we are better than anyone else. American exceptionalism, as defined by an online dictionary, means that the United States of America and its people hold a special place in the world by offering opportunity and hope for humanity.

That means that we have taken our public and private interests and balanced them in a unique way. We have adhered to a Constitution that focuses on personal freedom and responsibility, and at the same time, enabled our economic system to thrive. No other country in the whole world has been able to meld all of that together in the same successful and prosperous way as the United States of America.

I am not talking about perfection. We’ve had our battles. The roughest and most dangerous challenge to American exceptionalism came in the 1860’s when the country was divided by a war between the states. How very fortunate we were to overcome that struggle and, ever since, we have fought our battles, not with bayonets, but with ballots.

We’ve gotten frustrated with each other. We might not like this president or that party and we demand a change. For the most part, we make those changes peaceably. I am not blind or deaf to the violence that has occurred in certain situations. Just a few weeks ago we had Tucson, but at the heart of those were not thousands in the streets; rather they were confused individuals.

Generally speaking, and I look at the 2008 and the 2010 elections, each side can claim victory in one of those. In 2008 we were tired of the direction one party was taking us and we elected the other. In 2010, we were angry at the direction in which the dominant party was taking us and we voted them out.

Just last year we turned our entire House of Representatives over from one party to another and, thankfully, there were no riots in the streets. The first week of January, 2011, saw no thousands in the streets shouting to the high heavens for anyone to “get out.”

Compare that turnover to what goes on in many countries throughout the world. In Egypt, the people are tired of the president. He has taken advantage of them and their only remedy is to take to the streets. They are, literally, burning down the house. Just a few weeks ago it was Tunisia. Last year it was Greece, and before that Iran. The list could and will go on and on.

American exceptionalism is a popular phrase and it could mean a lot of things. We are hard working and creative. We are generous and caring. We have bent over backwards to help other countries in their quests for freedom. We are a blessed and unique country with tremendous resources.

But what really makes us special is that we have endured the many changes that have come down the pike and we have endured them peacefully. That is what has made us exceptional. I don’t know how much longer that can happen, but so far, so good. That’s better than burning down the White House!