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Exceptionalism through time
June 30th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Despite fights about its merits, idea of American exceptionalism a powerful force through history

This is the first in a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. On Monday, we examine areas in which other countries lead the way.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – It’s safe to say the first European arrivals to New England wouldn’t recognize today’s debate over whether America is exceptional.

Though the United States wouldn’t be born for another century and a half, the Puritans arriving in the early 1600s on the shores of what would become Massachusetts firmly believed they were on a mission from God.

In other words, they had the exceptional part down pat.

Fleeing what they saw as the earthly and corrupt Church of England, the Puritans fancied themselves the world’s last, best hope for purifying Christianity - and for saving the world.

The Puritans never used the word “exceptionalism.” But they came to see Boston as the new Jerusalem, a divinely ordained “city upon a hill,” a phrase Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop used in a sermon at sea en route from England in 1630.

“They were reinterpreting themselves as God’s new Israel,” Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero said. “They were essentially playing out the biblical story.”

To modern ears, that literal exceptionalist thinking could sound at once both exotic and quaint, which makes the idea’s staying power and influence throughout American history all the more remarkable.

Photos: Faces of citizenship

Nearly four centuries after Winthrop uttered the words “city on a hill,” President Barack Obama finds himself responding to charges from Republican challenger Mitt Romney that he has insufficient faith in American exceptionalism.

“Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” Romney said at a campaign stop this year. “You have an opportunity to vote and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American.”

Obama has pushed back on that claim, saying in a recent speech that “the character of our country … has always made us exceptional.”

Though the particulars surrounding the idea have changed, the bedrock belief that America is exceptional when measured against the arc of history and against all other nations has helped forge the nation’s defining moments, from the American Revolution and the country’s dramatic expansion west to the Civil War and both World Wars.

More recently, arguments about American exceptionalism have helped elect and unseat presidents – and have fed a debate about whether the phrase still has any meaning.

'An asylum for mankind'

For New England’s Puritans, exceptionalism was a religious idea with big political repercussions.

They thought the Protestant Reformation, which had been set into motion a century before, hadn’t gone nearly far enough in rooting out the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

Puritans saw the pomp and hierarchy of the Protestant Church of England as too much like another papacy.

My Take: How I constructed 'The American Bible'

In New England, Winthrop and his fellow travelers established a theocracy that they hoped would be a model for English Christianity.

“They had to succeed to bring about this promised apocalyptic history that would culminate in the second coming of Christ, hopefully to New England,” said Deborah Madsen, an American studies professor at the University of Geneva.

“To fail would be to fail the world on this grand, transcendent scale,” said Madsen, who has studied the idea of American exceptionalism throughout U.S. history.

With the stakes thought to be so high, there was intense social pressure among Puritans to adhere to a strict moral code.

Everyone looked for signs that they were among the elect destined for heaven and kept a watchful eye out for neighbors who might be backsliding. The starkest example: the Salem witch trials of 1692, in which 19 people were hanged in Massachusetts for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

“If the members of the community fulfilled their part in the work of sacred history, not only would the individuals find salvation, but the whole community would be saved,” Madsen said, summarizing Puritan thinking. “But if any individual failed to live up to this grand destiny, the entire community would be denied salvation.”

Being God’s chosen people, it turned out, wasn’t all roses.

America exceptional? Not by the numbers

As new arrivals and subsequent generations enlarged colonial America, the Puritans’ faith-based ideas were gradually secularized.

By 1660, it had become clear to the Massachusetts theocrats that they wouldn’t be exporting their ideas abroad anytime soon. That was the year the British monarchy was restored after a decade of rule by the Cromwells, putting an end to Puritan rule in England and re-establishing the Church of England as a political power.

And with new Enlightenment ideas making their way from Europe about a rational universe knowable through reason, the Puritans’ quest for perfect religious institutions gave way to a colonial quest for perfect political institutions.

My Faith: Why I don’t sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’

The democratic ideas that made up this new political exceptionalism owed plenty to Winthrop & Co.

“Puritans had mapped out the relationship between church and the community that included the seed of democratic participation,” said Madsen. “The idea was that everyone had rights but also responsibilities.

“By fulfilling their responsibilities and respecting the rights of others, they would achieve happiness through the social contract.”

That egalitarianism helped lay the groundwork for the American Revolution, though Madsen notes that “the terms of reference had changed from salvation to democracy.”

America’s revolutionaries were keenly aware that their calls for democratic government in the face of English rule were exceptional for their time.

“Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 in “Common Sense,” which helped galvanize colonists toward the Revolutionary War.

“Freedom hath been hunted round the globe,” Paine wrote. “Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger. … O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

The Puritan vision of America as world’s godly beacon had been replaced by the image of the nation as the world’s workshop for political and social progress. America’s founders wanted to break with what they saw as the corruption of European politics and society, where a person’s status was mostly a matter of inheritance.

By contrast, the founders proposed in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

While other republics had come and gone, many of the founders who signed the Declaration - and, later, the Constitution - wanted the American Republic to endure forever.

This was city on a hill 2.0.

Manifest destiny

Reading the founders’ paeans to American exceptionalism - about aspiring to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the Constitution puts it - can put a lump in your throat.

But their vision excluded huge swaths of the population, like women and slaves. And other applications of the idea had their own dark sides.

Take Manifest Destiny.

As the nascent United States strove to expand westward in the 1800s, its leaders faced major problems, including how to justify taking land that belonged to Europe or that was occupied by Native Americans.

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Manifest Destiny – the idea that it was God’s will for the U.S. government to occupy North America or all of the Americas – offered a big part of the answer.

“A civilization that has the sanction of God is always the ultimate justification,” said the University of Geneva’s Madsen. “The idea was that God had made it manifest that the U.S. should expand. … It’s not much different than the idea of American exceptionalism.”

Like many facets of exceptionalism, the notion of Manifest Destiny wasn’t entirely new.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth of England had established herself as a divinely ordained monarch whose reign had been presaged by the Bible. That mythology, which inspired Puritan exceptionalism, had helped English plantation owners justify forays into what is now Northern Ireland.

In the same way, Manifest Destiny helped justify the United States as it laid claim to European land and forcibly removed tens of thousands of American Indians. Many asserted that the campaign was meant to civilize or Christianize the natives, making good on America’s “chosenness.”

And the American image of a continent brimming with virgin land – which denied the presence of American Indians there – synched nicely with long-held exceptionalist visions of an unspoiled and utopian New World.

“Our manifest destiny (is) to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions,” American newspaper editor John S. O’Sullivan wrote in 1845, arguing for the annexation of Texas, in what is believed to be history’s first mention of Manifest Destiny.

It’s hard to know how much America’s leaders truly believed in the idea versus how much they employed it for purely political ends. Manifest Destiny certainly had high-profile critics, including Mark Twain, who declared himself an “anti-imperialist.”

“If you’re a cynical person and you see something like the Mexican-American War as a land grab, you can say this idea of Manifest Destiny was construed to create a moral tissue for a war of aggression,” Boston University international relations professor Andrew Bacevich said.

The westward expansion was driven largely by Southerners who wanted to farm the land and expand American slavery.

But abolitionists like Frederick Douglass also appropriated American exceptionalism, arguing that the nation’s “peculiar institution” was evidence that America was falling short of its Christian mandate.

That abolitionist line foreshadowed a key argument of 20th-century liberals: If America is exceptional, it’s because of the decisions we make around justice, not because of innate “chosenness.”

By Douglass’ time, American exceptionalism was so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that it transcended religion. Abraham Lincoln, often described as a deist - believing in a distant, uninvolved God - was nonetheless a hearty exceptionalist.

“He believed that America was leading the way in history toward democracy and equality,” said Dorothy Ross, a history professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University. “At that time, Europe is still steeped in monarchs and failed revolutions, and America was still the only mass democracy in the Western world and believed that it was leading the historical way.”

Even the relatively unreligious Lincoln came to see the hand of God actively participating in American history through the Civil War.

“He gives to both North and South this terrible war,” Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, referring to God. “American slavery,” Lincoln said, was something that “He now wills to remove.”

The first president to say it

Despite its centuries-old influence, the term "American exceptionalism" didn’t emerge until sometime in the past 100 years.

Some historians say it’s unclear who coined the phrase, while others credit Joseph Stalin with doing so in 1929, when he admonished American communists for suggesting that the United States’ unique history could make it immune to Marxism.

In his reprimand, the Soviet leader decried “the heresy of American exceptionalism.”

Ironically, American intellectuals and eventually the broader public came to embrace the term, especially in the years following World War II, even after communists used the Great Depression as evidence of Stalin’s alleged "heresy.”

Just like President Woodrow Wilson had done in World War I, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman justified American involvement in World War II largely on the basis that the country had been chosen to lead and transform the world.

After the Second World War, “the United States had emerged as the strongest country,” said Johns Hopkins’ Ross. “Social scientists began studying things like national character and what makes America unique.”

American affection for the idea grew during the Cold War, as the U.S. attempted to distinguish itself from the “godless” Soviet Union.

“Our governments, in every branch ... must be as a city upon a hill,” John F. Kennedy said in a Boston speech just before his inauguration in 1961, citing John Winthrop by name.

In the ’60s and ’70s, however, American scholars and others began challenging the idea of American exceptionalism, mostly from the left and especially after the Vietnam War, which liberals criticized as a costly exercise in American hubris.

Historians began to see exceptionalism as a scholarly construct, a way of interpreting American history rather than as accepted fact.

Ronald Reagan illustrated the partisan gap around the idea, speaking of America as a “city on a hill” and attacking President Jimmy Carter for allegedly showing weakness on the world stage, including in the Iran hostage crisis.

“We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so,” Reagan told the first annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974. “We are today the last best hope of man on Earth.”

President George W. Bush employed similar rhetoric in his global “freedom agenda,” even after initially pledging a “humble” foreign policy.

Despite greater Republican than Democratic support for the idea (91% vs. 70%) , a 2010 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans subscribed to the notion that the U.S. has a “unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.”

Boston University’s Prothero criticizes that definition of American exceptionalism, which he says is how most American politicians use the term today.

For John Winthrop, the shining city was an aspiration that depended on the righteous behavior of the Puritans, Prothero says, part of the social contract that laid the groundwork for democracy. Whether the city would in fact shine was an open question.

If the Puritans dealt falsely with their God, Winthrop had said in his 1630 sermon, there will be “curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

In contemporary American politics, by contrast, Prothero says the idea of exceptionalism has been stripped of its conditionalism, becoming “a kind of brag.”

“Today, it’s ‘of course God blesses America,’ ” he said. “It’s presumptuous.”

Others have attacked the idea as little more than the kind of nationalism felt by citizens of countries all over the world.

“I believe in American exceptionalism,” President Obama said in France in 2009, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

But the president has since sounded a different tune. In his Air Force Academy commencement speech in May, Obama repeatedly expressed support for American exceptionalism.

“The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” Obama said. “It's one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.”

In fact, Obama appears to be the first sitting president to publicly use those words, political experts say. Given their place in the modern American political lexicon, nearly 400 years after Winthrop first gave voice to the idea, he is unlikely to be the last.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Europe • Mitt Romney • Politics • Protestant • Religious liberty • United Kingdom • United States

soundoff (3,068 Responses)
  1. Gordon

    The USA is arguably one of the most corrupt nations on earth. They continuously ignore international law when it suits them, they violate foreign sovereign nations laws, and keep patting themselves on the back telling themselves how wonderful they are. The country is NOT a leader, but IS a bully. Do it our way, or we'll trample you underfoot. Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the UK and so on as examples, are much fairer nations, without that 'exceptionalism' that the US brags about.

    July 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • jake

      "under god" only since 1954..........

      July 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  2. ArthurP

    Lets see what your founding fathers thought of religion:

    1. "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man"- Thomas Jefferson

    2. "The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in
    the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs." -Thomas Jefferson

    3. "It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticism's that three are
    one, and one is three; and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one- Thomas Jefferson

    4. "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin
    will be cla.ssed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors."- Thomas Jefferson

    5. "There is not one redeeming feature in our supersti.tion of Christianity. It has made one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."- Thomas Jefferson

    6. "Lighthouses are more useful than churches."- Ben Franklin .

    7. "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."- Ben Franklin

    8. "I looked around for God's judgments, but saw no signs of them."- Ben Franklin

    9. "In the affairs of the world, men are saved not by faith, but by the lack of it."- Ben Franklin

    10. "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it"- John Adams

    11. "The New Testament, they tell us, is founded upon the prophecies of the Old; if so, it must follow the fate of its
    foundation.'- Thomas Paine

    12. "Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst."- Thomas Paine

    13. "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."- Thomas Paine

    14. "Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of
    God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis but an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of downright lies."- Thomas Paine

    15. "All national inst.itutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."- Thomas Paine

    16. "It is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon,
    against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene.”- Thomas Paine

    17. "Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring
    from any other cause. Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I was in
    hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."- George Washington

    18. "The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession."- Abraham Lincoln

    19. "It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst.
    by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespa.sses on its legal rights by others."- James Madison

    20. "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."- James
    Madison

    21. History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the
    lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. Thomas Jefferson

    July 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      L-A-Z-Y

      July 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • ArthurP

      No lazy would be praying for God to assemble the list and post it for you. As apposed to researching the topic and finding it. Now what is it they say about 'disparaging the messenger'?

      July 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Lots of folks got one liners. Guess what at the end of the day America is a Christian nation founded by Christians for Christians. One nation under God.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • JustRight

      You do know the USA wasnt "One nation under God" until 1948 right? This is a decidedly non-Christian nation

      July 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • jake

      "under god" – only since 1954........

      July 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      That is the pledge not the way of life, you literal morons.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • JustRight

      Ronald Regonzo –
      Yes its part of the pledge which you quoted in conjunction with claiming a christian foundation to our nation. We are pointing out that your statement is not internally consistent. Its painful having to explain your stupidity to you

      July 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Steve

      Ronald Regonzo

      "That is the pledge not the way of life, you literal morons."

      Yea. Don't you morons know that a pledge is nuttin' but empty words? Get wit da program ya'all!

      July 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  3. FireBreathingElk

    We're not exceptional.

    We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports.

    We lead the world in only three categories. Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined 25 of whom are allies.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-america-is-not-the-greatest-country-in-the-world-2012-6#ixzz1zQ134Y3z

    July 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • ArthurP

      It is pretty sad when your infant mortality rate is greater the Cuba's. Both using UN and CIA lists.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What disappointing stats. Americans are obviously delusional, too, it appears.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Hard to keep infant mortality rates down when you murder a million a year under atheistic abortion practices.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Steve

      178th in infant mortality

      Does that include abortion?

      July 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • JustRight

      Atheistic abortion?
      The religious kill most of the unborn –
      Women identifying themselves as Protestants obtain 37.4% of all abortions in the U.S.; Catholic women account for 31.3%, Jewish women account for 1.3%, and women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions. 18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as "Born-again/Evangelical

      July 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • ArthurP

      No the values do not include abortions.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      The reasoning behind abortion is atheistic. It is a Godless practice that denies life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      America has always been one nation under God. America was founded by Christians for Christians

      July 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • JustRight

      Ronald Regonzo-
      Do you even read what you post? Procedures dont have religious affiliations. Its not truely an atheistic procedure anymore than its a christian procedure. Though its used mostly by christians so if it were to be affiliiated with a religion i suppose itd be christian.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Steve

      I think I'll try that word game thing myself if I ever end up in front of a judge for a committing a violent crime. "It wasn't a "crime", your honor. It was a "procedure." LOL!!!

      It's not "infanticide" - it's "women's rights." Oh, wait. Here's an even better term we can use; how about "reproductive health care?" That's sounds warm and fuzzy. We'll have no problem at all selling that one to the masses!

      July 1, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • ArthurP

      The reasoning behind abortion is atheistic. It is a Godless practice that denies life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      Tell that to the 78,000 young girls ( <14 yrs) that die in child birth every year for want of an abortion. That is one child somewhere in the world every 8 seconds. But I guess it is OK as many of them are not Christian.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • ArthurP

      That should be minutes not seconds.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • phk46

      Ronald Regonzo – the reason that abortions don't count as infant mortality is because fetuses aren't infants.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  4. Jack

    Hello everyone. You are all cordially invited to visit, thestarofkaduri.com

    July 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  5. marctheduck

    I'm surprised at the tie in with religion in this article. Feels like spin to me. I believe America has been an exceptional country in the past. In our founding – which was unique in that it was made up of early pioneers that survived (or didn't) exceptional difficulties to establish a permanent European-Origined culture in the new world, to two hundred years later when some exceptional people formed a new idea about how to govern themselves (democracy) and were willing to lay down their lives to establish it (Washington, Henry, many others). There were some exception men who were able to not only conceive of a better form of government but were able to elegantly articulate it (Jefferson, Franklin). And we had exceptionally brave people defend it – including in WWII – the greatest generation, who were willing to defend their homeland and families... once again. And even now we see such patriots (Tillman and many others). But we have also shown signs of fading (Obama) as we become less willing to explore (space) or defend what we believe in – here or abroad (liberals of this generation). I still believe we are an exceptional country and that our future will be exceptional. We have always risen to challenge and become complacent during times when we lacked one. Maybe it's just human exceptionalism and this country has been the one that has most allowed it to take bloom because of our freedoms (freedom to succeed and freedom to fail – individually). But I never thought of it as a religiously based exceptionalism. I think the author completely missed the idea of what American exceptionalism to those of us who believe in it and only capture the point of view of those who scoff at it. Cynicism at its finest.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • jake

      i was with you right up until you started picking examples. president obama is an extraordinary example of exceptionalism. despite the hampering factors of race (black and brown people are still considered "second class" citizens – did you even read the article?) and being the child of a single parent, he excelled in college and became the (wait for it) president of the united sates!! And if you think that all of the people in the military are conservatives, then you are truly delusional. Finally, we are not exploring space because the conservatives in the senate and congress have upheld the tax breaks for the rich and have forced cuts in “non-essential” programs. Please read some books …………

      July 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  6. Chris Taylor

    We were exceptional at one point in time but The government legislated that away. Now the only thing we are exceptional at is lack of originality, cookie cutter, study panel, Yes men. We used to be a nation that took risks and developed new ideas. The only new ideas we come up with today is new ways to steal money from people, and how to think of corporations as people Sociopaths that they are. Hows this for an idea, lets rent out the Nation for advertising. "United states of Lehman Brothers" how does that sound we could build a giant neon logo that can be seen from space. Hell lets let corporations run for president since they are considered people, "President Monsanto" we could turn the national parks into parking lots for the complaints department. Instead of being a greedy corrupt corporation that has to pull strings in government,. we can just let them run the country into the ground Directly. Privatize Freedom!!!!!!!

    July 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  7. Foriegn Correspondent

    Here's a clue America: You're about as special and "exceptional" as the students of Wellesley High, an English teacher - one David McCullough Jr - of which told them straight up "You're not special."

    Americans have been fed this exceptionalism tripe for decades, much as a generation or two of children now have been taught basically the same thing to their detriment.

    The "one indispensable nation in world affairs" has plenty of grotesque skeletons in its closet, often acts purely in self-interest and for monetary and resource profit, has propped up and aided some of the world's worst despots, has invaded nations on false pretenses and was the nexus of the 2008 economic collapse that very nearly destroyed the world's economy.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • american

      heres an idea ... try us, come on foriegn correspondent we will stop any nation into the ground that even thinks they can take us

      July 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • american #2

      ok buddy i know you'll be helping fighting right

      July 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • american #2

      @foreign correspondent- hey at least you have heard the story of wellesly high, we must be special then

      July 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Yea. Little yellow bus special.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  8. food for thought

    we are the fattest nation on the planet...we are the dumbest...we are also becoming the least tolerant nation out of the so called free nations – if we were to be invaded there would be no getting away and since our armies are overseas we would be totally screwed!

    that would end any idea of empire would it not?

    July 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Who would want to invade you and acquire all your problems.

      July 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • sybaris

      Been watching Red Dawn again?

      Look! On the horizon! It's the Taliban coming to make an amphibious landing!

      July 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • hippypoet

      red dawn....lol NOOOO!

      it was a point that was made thru the use of extremes... a personal favorite. dropjaw and listen tactic.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  9. Matt

    If the states didn't get to Saudia Arabian oil before Germany we might all be Nazis. The Germans ran out of oil which was part of their downfall. That and invading Russian

    July 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Someone

      Somehow, saying that the inability to take Saudi Arabia was part of the downfall of the Nazis is about an inane a comment I have seen.....Barbarossa was the rock that broke teh Greman back, virtually ALL historians would agree on that, since the Nazi's had t he Romanian oil fields (see Polesti).

      July 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  10. RealitySaysI

    If you think you are the best and stop striving to improve, you've already lost. Being exceptional has nothing to do with fictional men in the sky. It has to do with determination, open-mindedness, and the proclivity to take advantage of opportunities and make smart bets. That is the reality.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Matt

      blah blah blah. What a dung pile of a post

      July 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  11. Matt

    Haters gonna hate!

    July 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • JustRight

      Stupid is as stupid posts online

      July 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bullsh!t

      Matt is, of course, the hater.

      July 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      ends with atheism

      July 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • JustRight

      Ha ha im pretty sure stupid doesnt have a logical conclusion almost by definition

      July 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Bob

      You named yourself "stupid"? Really?

      July 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • ArthurP

      How does this keep getting posted? If I try to post the same comment twice it gets rejected.

      July 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      ends at atheism

      July 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      Truths always get through. God bless

      July 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • The Four Fluffy Kittens of the Apocalype

      Arthur, the only thing resembling a moderator or censorship here is a very lame word filter that searched for hidden naughty words. You cannot say Consti.tution because it has a "t-it" in it, and you cannot say circu mstance or Ja_pan.

      Someone will provide a fuller list for you, but just seek out the naughty word and do what I did. There is no other censorship at all, and the "report abuse" button does not work either.

      July 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      answers questions that were not asked...cat juggling anyone?

      July 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Zingo

      Three names, one sad lonely little troll.

      You do know that you put "stupid followed to its logical conclusion" in the "Name" box, which means you named yourself "Stupid". I mean, we appreciate your self-awareness on your mental shortcomings, but you don't need to be so self-depricating in the future.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      As long as your head is so far up there zingo check for precancerous polyps. it might save your life

      July 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  13. UK Dave

    SINCE YOU NEED YOUR SENSE OF HUMOUR BACK ...
    A ton of fat walks into the treatment room & the doctor dies instantly!
    Fatman shouts "I demand a second opinion!"

    July 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Mafia Don

      LOL! LOL! LOL! Killer!

      July 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • UK Dave

      I actually believe that people don't notice that the response was by the guy who posted it! Oooooooooooo trolling is so much fun!

      July 1, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  14. Whatever Sells Ad Space

    Nevermind the Bollocks...

    July 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  15. sybaris

    Having lived in other countries for many years I have observed U.S. tourists on many occasions projecting this "chosen" atti.tude on locals. The "greatest generation" are the worst. They carry themselves with a sense of ent.itlement and treat their European hosts as if they should grovel at their feet for aiding them in WWII. Fortunately they are rapidly dying off and are being replaced with a generation with a little better sense of global community.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • JP

      Well maybe we will let them rot in their own mess next time....because the way things are going over there they are going to need help again !!!!! Unless they enjoy speaking arab or whatever and living under sharia law. !!

      July 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • sybaris

      You know JP there is not an editor at large fact checking the emails you get.

      July 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  16. Nidal Abed

    I'll tell you when Americans become really exceptional, when something doesn't work and they stop doing more of the same!!

    July 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  17. James Ruston

    I think the fact that our ancestors found an empty continent from which they could extract huge riches and fill it up with a diverse people had more to do with it than God.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • jake

      although i agree that the formation of our country was an extraordinary experience, remember that this continent was not "empty." we "tamed" the wilderness at the expense of the natives..........

      July 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Tim

    All this really does not matter since 2012 years later the dude has not returned. Like REO said " Tired of the false promises of a warn out religion". Isis lasted 4000 years. I'm sure Jesus can last longer as he has so many idiot followers.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  19. ZEBO

    An example of American Exceptionalisim would be ..." Corporations are People"...!!! I'm sure the rest of the developed world finds this exceptionaly Bizzare...!!!

    July 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  20. Nidal Abed

    Yes the power of American Exceptionalism works but just like steroids. Every other empire that collapsed in history thought they were exceptional, The Germans, the English, the Soviets, The Romans, The Greeks, the Turks, the Persians, The Arabs, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Moguls, etc. And in that America is no exception. The fact that someone is resorting to exceptionalism to stimulate the nation is a tell tale they've lost sight.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.