Oh, Great

Could we just stop arguing about whether we are, or were, or will be great again? Could we, for the next four months at least, ban the word exceptional from our vocabulary? Could we dispense with superlatives like “the best country in the history of the world”?


Plenty of countries have universally accessible healthcare and affordable higher education, fairer wages and better parental leave policies, more tolerance and less homelessness and hunger. Lots of cultures are less obsessed with consumerism and competition, and more committed to the common good. America is exceptional in our level of gun violence and our rate of incarceration. And also for the amount of money we throw at preparing for and making war.

Do we need to remind ourselves that this nation was birthed with genocidal policies toward native populations and the enslavement of Africans? That our founding document accorded voice and political power solely to white male property owners and assigned people with dark skin only a fraction of humanity?

Yes, at our best we are a beautiful and generous and compassionate country. And we should celebrate that whenever we can. But we are also deeply flawed and very human. And that makes us quite ordinary. The rest of the world knows this. The sooner we acknowledge it and start considering the common good of the planet rather than our own exceptionalism, the sooner we can begin to work together toward solutions for the very real crises that plague us.

“What does the Holy One require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?”  -Micah  6:8

4 thoughts on “Oh, Great

  1. I would like to think of our sense of exceptionalism as exceptionalism in our aspirations as a democracy, aspirations we have so often fallen far short of. However, there have been moments in our history during which the “angels of our better natures” have prevailed, and we have been an “us”, not a “me”, a people who understand that our freedoms begin with freedom from want for all in our affluent society, as well as freedom of opportunity and freedom from oppression and fear. Moments that are all too rare, but they have pointed us to better and more just and righteous paths as a people.


    • Yes, Tim, I agree that we have moments of living up to our best aspirations. But do those same aspirations not exist among other peoples and nations? Often the commitment to freedom and opportunity is most fervent among people resisting the most oppressive situations. What do we gain by seeing ourselves as exceptional in some way?

      Liked by 1 person

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