BY JOSH MERLO
The legend of America has grown from practically the day the Founding Fathers put quill to parchment and signed the Declaration of Independence. In the ensuing months, the foundling country would battle the foremost military power of the world and somehow eke out victory after victory.
Like the biblical David fighting Goliath, America waged battle against a superior foe and triumphed. Following the Revolutionary War, America asserted itself even more. We bought from a cash-starved France the Louisiana Purchase, a vast tract of land that doubled the country’s size. In the War of 1812, our capital was burnt by a resurgent and vengeful Britain. We persevered and fought our way to a treaty. In the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Americans perished; yet, following the war, the Union expanded west even further. At the turn of the century, America established itself as a premier world power and as an empire deserving of recognition from the haughty European courts. In the bloody World Wars, America positioned itself as the savior of Europe and the stalwart defender of the West. In the Cold War, America was the shield that defended God and civilization from the ravages of the fierce Russian bear.
Yet, if eyes unblended by pride and prejudice were to look on the modern version of this storied country, would they see the same paragon of Western civilization that the United States is made out to be? Or, instead, would they see the shambles of a great state whose sole claim to glory and honor lies in a history that will soon be passed over by the rest of the world?
Obviously, claims that American exceptionalism is an ahistorical quality are quite foolish. In the past, the United States has indeed been one of the greatest countries of its time. This being said, what of the present? The question before us concerns whether the inflated and pompous view that America is the best still holds true.
Should we still cling to the notion that God Himself has ordained our mission and our expansion; are we going to maintain the nineteenth century claim of a “manifest destiny”? Are we still the world’s first champion of democracy, and are we still naïve enough to claim that democracy will right all of the world’s wrongs? Does America still hold aloft the bright beacon of liberty, graciously accepting the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? Practically, is the United Sates the military and industrial titan it once was?
Strange as it might seem, all of the above qualities that made America so great belong more to the past than to the present. Manifest destiny spoke of a God-given right to expansion – the U.S. no longer seeks territorial gains in the Americas. Furthermore, manifest destiny’s sins are more evident now. The territory sought under the justification of the Divine was seized at the expense of Native Americans, the Spanish and Mexico. Do we wish to proudly claim these offenses are part of our greatness? What of democracy? The Arab Spring movement should be a startling example of how democracy can be the wrong form of government.
As an additional point, the practice of conquering countries to make them democratic seems somewhat oxy-moronic. However, this practice is another legacy the U.S. has left behind: Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Libya. Through blood and iron, we sought to instill democracy. Shall this be the cornerstone of American greatness? And what of liberty? What of it? How many of those who have sought a better life can truly breathe free? Recently, one of the president’s executive orders – one that would have prevented deportations for over five million immigrants – was placed on hold by a Texas court. Across the Atlantic in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine is still besieged by separatist and Russian forces. The free world wrings its hands worriedly while committing nothing to the defense of the embattled state. What of liberty? The jihadist tendencies of ISIS are continually thrust into the world spotlight as the bloodthirsty extremists continue to execute civilians. Recently, the group has begun to utilize chemical weapons in their fight to establish a caliphate in the countries surrounding Syria. What has the U.S. done to protect the liberties – or lives, for that matter – of those on ISIS’ warpath?
Patriotism is a fine thing. Patriotism is a necessary thing for a country to flourish. However, patriotism, taken to the extreme, is an exercise in nothing more than delusional back-patting. Sadly, this is all that the talk of American exceptionalism has become. However magnificent and glorious the edifice of our past rises, we cannot deny the realities of our present nor can we turn blind eyes towards the excesses and evils of the past so often forgotten. What made America great is no longer enough, if it even remains. The task before us is to look forward. Instead of pining for the return of a mythical status, every American should instead be focusing on the building of a better state that values the original principles of the Founding Fathers, the principles which enabled so meteoric a rise for the U.S. so long ago.