Tuesday, May 13, 2014

American Exceptionalism?

In 1630 while still onboard ship, John Winthrop sermonized to his fellow Puritans that they were sailing to “a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Shiny City on a Hill
One hundred and fifty years later, the Founders believed this to their core. They believed they were building an exceptional nation and the world was watching. 

Although many politicians have used the idiom, the phrase “a shiny city on a hill” is most closely associated with Ronald Reagan. He used it many times in his political career, but never so poignantly as in his farewell address. 

Excerpt from Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address
“I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
Our forefathers moved through the founding period knowing the world was watching. The Founders were good people guided by solid, well-thought-out principles. They set their sights high. They chose to do something great. They wanted to be the light of the world.

The United States of America is exceptional, but we are not exceptional because we are a different kind of people. People are the same the world over. We are exceptional because of the uniqueness of our founding. The Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were not events. They were processes that took many years to come to fruition. They both engaged an entire nation. They both were guided by clear principles. They both reflected timeless truths that inspired us to move ever closer to greatness.

America is not the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. America is a commonly held culture that emerged from writing and approving these documents. Somewhere deep inside, we know it’s important to preserve them as they were originally intended. They are our heritage. It hurts when someone assaults them.

We often hear laments that our politicians no longer honor their pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. This is backward. The Constitution was not written for politicians. Our political leaders have no motivation to abide by a two-hundred-year-old restraining order. Americans are the ones who must enforce the supreme law of the land. The Constitution’s first, outsized words are We the People. The people did “ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” It’s our document. It was always meant to be ours, not the government’s. We should always treat it as our most prized possession because the Constitution is unique.

The Founders didn’t set out to build a run-of-the-mill nation fit for people to inhabit. Their aspirations went far higher. Early Americans worked for more than three decades to craft a republic that would harness the worst in people, while giving free rein to the best in people. The country didn’t start out perfect, nor is it perfect today, but few other nations constantly strive to be nobler tomorrow than they were the day before. 

The Constitution and our American culture were established using a few simple but amazing principles. These principles collectively preserve liberty. Because we have been fortunate, it’s difficult for Americans to remember that liberty is a precious and highly unstable commodity. It takes the work of millions to protect liberty, not just a few politicians. That’s why each and every American has an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Our children deserve nothing less.

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