Jake Sullivan overlooked a few things when he wrote “What Donald Trump and Dick Cheney got Wrong About America” about American Exceptionalism for the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of The Atlantic.
The article opens by framing a moral compass comparing what national leaders have done versus what the new generation of students want. Implicitly, I think he’s forgotten the difference between teacher and student. Wisdom comes with age.
The author pines about how we exuded generosity and grace to other nations post-WW2. Yes, well, that included a defeated enemy. The difference is there was a surrender. We gracefully helped rebuild all. Now, the very concept of winning or conquering over a bad foe is removed from the lexicon. We haven’t won a war since WW2. We just sort of quit fighting. The authors historical pining doesn’t teach how to show generosity and grace toward continuing enemies that are created by our gentleness. By now, we’ve created a portfolio of enemies happy to destroy us in a war effort they never recognize as over. When we stopped winning, we lost the position to be graceful winners.
The author argues about what should be done. It’s fine for people to believe different things and pursue different things. He didn’t address, nor have I heard a good argument for, the underlying offense. Your benevolence is great until you reach into my pockets in order to do it. The problem is many advocates of expansive grace and giving toward other nations want to do it by taking from those who don’t want to do it. Barack Obama, during his presidential days argued that taking was okay because prosperity of the providers wasn’t theirs anyhow, a.k.a. “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” ..and thus it’s okay to take from you. This attitude must be dealt with because that is the underlying offense to people who disagree with the author.
The author quotes China (and surrogately Russia), who are self-aware of their power and size. Then he critiques them and says America should do it another way. He fails to recognize that China and various forms of Russia have been around for THOUSANDS of years while the American experiment has been around for less than 300 years. If the author accepts that the idea of generosity “take from many to give to some” cannot compete for the endurance prize, okay. At least we can have an honest discussion. However, the charter of the President, our own constitution and the presumed underlying assumption (until young students started to hate their own country) has been that preserving America is a prime goal. If we don’t survive, we won’t be doing anything for anybody. The author needs to at least recognize value in the opposing viewpoints and recognize his dependency on all the opposing ideologies funding his.