Too many treat greatness not as a responsibility but as an entitlement, an inheritance that was earned for them. They fail to grasp that the struggle for our values is the prize. Take it for granted and it slips away. We will defeat enemies like the Islamic State by learning from our past, not airbrushing it.
In his Dec. 30 Wall Street Journal column, William Galston makes a point that is appropriate to recall in this season and at a time when, as often before, some probably well-intentioned republican people and movements want to counter and destroy our unstable but creative covenant that makes room for secular and religious appeals and agencies alike.
One of NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcell's more oft-used quotes is: "You are what your record says you are." That doesn't just apply to sports teams. Team America's record of late has not been of the champion of the values we say define who we are and what we're about. Our record says more about our real identity more than the one we imagine.
On the whole, is American exceptionalism a force for good? The question shouldn't be hard to answer. To make an exception of yourself is as immoral a proceeding for a nation as it is for an individual. When we say of a person (usually someone who has gone off the rails), "He thinks the rules don't apply to him," we mean that he is a danger to others and perhaps to himself.
Behind the fear mongering and scare tactics that have conflated all of today's hot news issues into some sort of dystopic conservative nightmare -- Ebola on the backs of ISIS crossing into the US through the porous Mexican border -- lie very palpable undertones of colonialist attitudes towards racism and cultural elitism.
That word "indispensable" is often used without any indication of what exactly our indispensability consists of. Evidence from the last 13 years, however, suggests that we have been exceptionally, indispensably, undeniably, inscrutably important when it comes to destabilizing significant chunks of the planet and encouraging the growth of jihadist organizations.
The U.S. now stood alone. Initially, Washington was stunned. After all, as one observer put it, "the end of history" had been reached -- and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.
As a country, we have continued to lose standing throughout the world as a legitimate voice for human rights, as a responsible member of a community of nations, as an arbiter of peace, or as a party protective of the planet. We have seen our standing reduced from a beacon of freedom to a beacon of financial self-interest.