The term has come up again — first as a mention in President Obama’s speech Tuesday on the Syrian crisis, and Thursday in an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times penned by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Which is significant. The idea of American exceptionalism was first posited in the 20th century by no less than another Russian top dog, Joseph Stalin, who was chastising American communists in the 1920s who believed that perhaps America didn’t need quite the sort of communism that the Soviets were getting. The Soviet type of communism resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Soviet citizens who did not want to toe the commie line. The commie line was for those citizens’ own good, of course.
The question that arises, with all this talk of American exceptionalism, is this: What makes America so exceptional? The obvious things are its geography and climate, political and religious freedom, economic resources and their development, military power, and America’s sense of place in world history.
America also is exceptional in being a country that can absorb the damages wrought by mediocre leadership. Most American leaders are mediocre, at best. Only a few great leaders rise above being run-of-the-mill — through brilliance, luck or both. Often, we don’t know who was brilliant, or lucky, until well after their terms in office are over.
All that can be said about what makes up American exceptionalism, however, also could have been said about Greece, Egypt, Rome, Great Britain and China.
And, about 6,000 years ago, the city of Hamoukar in the kingdom of Sumer would have been considered exceptional. Some archeologists believe it to have been a cradle of cities, and the cradle of rule by law, laying down the pattern for such later bodies of law as the Code of Hammurabi. Where is this Hamoukar? Its remains were found in the northeastern corner of a country now known as Syria.