Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin recently had the presumption to exercise his American right to free speech by publishing an Op-Ed in the New York Times. The irony of this aside, Putin has crafted a strong and well-worded case for caution in dealing with Syria. While we cannot ignore the human tragedy going on, we would be wise to carefully consider each of his points before acting, according to our own judgement, based on our own principles. However, that is not my point here.
Putin closed his piece with this carefully crafted paragraph, which has created some outrage in America:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Note that Putin has called upon the words of Thomas Jefferson to suggest that Americans are not exceptional. He’s right; Americans are not exceptional, as a race. We are, indeed, with the rest of humanity created equal. In fact, we are a joyous mix of immigrants and the ideal of racial exceptionalism that Putin implies we aspire to is actually an anathema to us.
What Mr. Putin has intentionally failed to comprehend is that it is the very nature of Jefferson’s words that make the ideal of America exceptional. When the American people live up to those ideals we are the exceptional nation. It is then that we are that Shining City of the Hill that Reagan promised the world. That is what inspired thousands of protestors in Tiananmen Square to gather around a Goddess of Democracy modeled after America’s Statue of Liberty, shortly before their own government began to slaughter them.
Further, “created equal”, in the context of the Declaration was not a judgement of the inherent abilities of individuals, it was an assertion that all men are equal in the eyes of God and the law. That is something Putin’s increasingly oligarchic and locked down Russia can no longer even aspire to. Russia is heading toward a model of nationalistic socialism ironically similar to the one that Putin noted America and Russia once worked together to defeat.
If we react to external threats by surrendering our moral responsibility to international organizations or running down to Wal-Mart and buying a load of Made-in-China hats and shirts emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes we are not demonstrating our exceptionalism and we prove Mr. Putin’s point. It is actually when we vehemently disagree in the press, argue around the family table and our complain about our Congress and our President locking horns over the important issues of the day, that we are exceptional. Keep that up America; earn your exceptionalism this day.
Greg Autry is a professor of entrepreneurship and economics. He serves as Senior Economist with the American Jobs Alliance and with the Coalition for a Prosperous America and is co-author (with Peter Navarro) of Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – a Global Call to Action. He blogs regularly at: http://www.gregautry.us/blog and on the Huffington Post.