"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
So goes the famous sonnet by a 19th century poet, Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
America has a terrible history of Native American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, discrimination against the very same Chinese, Irish and Italian immigrants welcomed by the Statue of Liberty, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and more recently, discrimination against homosexual Americans. America is far from perfect, but it is still exceptional. Exceptionalism does not mean perfection, rather exceptionalism acknowledges a lack of perfection, but continues to goad all citizens, without coercion and regardless of their origins, to strive for prosperity and excellence. For anyone that will mistake America's exceptionalism as nothing but unbridled hubris, note that it is not. My reasons for a belief in America's exceptionalism are simple.
In no other country on this earth have the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the huddled masses referred to in Emma Lazarus' sonnet grown up in such a way as they have in America to become leaders of industry, governors, senators, ambassadors, innovators like Steve Jobs, and presidents like John Kennedy and Barack Obama. America, a country of immigrants, is the world's largest economy, is home to most of the world's premiere universities, excels in most of the world's sports and thus is consistently at the top of the medals league tables at every Olympic Games, is home to the world's finest fighting force in the form of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, hosts hotbeds for technological advancements like Silicon Valley, and is home to entertainment and cultural capitals of the world, like Los Angeles and New York.
There is though another side to the view of a prosperous America. America's unemployment rate has been stubbornly high for years since the beginning of the Great Recession; it is currently at 8.6 percent. There is a mass disaffection among America's people, most notably in the various "Occupy" movements that have spread throughout the country. But even in its disaffection, America has served as a leader, as the "Occupy" movement that began in September 2011 in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street has spawned copycat movements in cities as far flung as London and Sydney.
The British Empire was once the world's dominant force. It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire (disclaimer: I am not an advocate for colonization). Now the British Empire is mostly relegated to a large island in the Atlantic Ocean, seemingly isolated from the rest of Europe as recently exemplified by the December 2011 decision by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to exercise Britain's veto power to halt a new EU treaty drafted in an attempt to put an end to the current European sovereign debt crisis, and waning in economic influence as demonstrated by Britain's recent fall from sixth to seventh place in the World Economic League Table produced by the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
Could America go the way of the British Empire?
But that won't happen so long as every child born in America at one point in time or another in their lives is able to believe that they too could one day become president. That won't happen so long as one's status in American society is not dictated by whether their parents or grandparents were of the working class or members of a royal family. That won't happen so long as America continues to reward intelligence and innovation. And that won't happen provided that America ensures that the 99 percent have the same or more opportunities to achieve the American dream as their parents had.
As 2012 rolls on and we celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, we find ourselves in another election year. The battlegrounds for Americans' hearts and minds are many and range from issues like the economy, healthcare, immigration, defense and foreign policy to concepts like the exceptionalism of America, with one candidate going so far as to publish a book on American Exceptionalism in time for the 2012 presidential elections.
But make no mistake, the idea of America's exceptionalism is just that -- it is American. The ideology is not embraced solely by Republicans, as the current crop of Republican presidential candidates vying for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire are seeking to get the nation to believe. Rather, American exceptionalism is an Independent, Democratic and Republican ideal and manifests itself in the Barack Obamas, John Boehners, Hillary Clintons, Nancy Pelosis, Condoleeza Rices, Robert Menendezes, Gary Lockes, Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, Ursula Burns, Irene Rosenfelds, Chris Gardners, Amy Tans, Michael Jordans, Derek Jeters, Bruce Springsteens and Jay-Zs of the world.