Centennial Review: December 2012 | The United States | Ronald Reagan

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Principled Ideas from the Centennial Institute Volume 4, Number 12 • December 2012

Publisher, William L. Armstrong Editor, John Andrews

TEN REASONS TO BELIEVE IN AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM
By KT McFarland
Do you know what the biggest fear in America is today? That our children will not enjoy the advantages we have had. That for the first time in American history, our standard of living is heading downward. That our anemic economic recovery and political gridlock are the new normal. We have that sinking feeling that maybe America isn’t so exceptional after all and that ours will be the last generation to live the American dream. The leading foreign policy magazine asks, “Is America Over?” A prominent media darling writes a best-seller entitled The Post-American World.

resilience, our system of government, our resources, our diversity, all make us different from other great powers that have gone before us. Actually, this is a theme we’ve grappled with since our founding. On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin pointed to the carving of a half sun on the back of George Washington’s chair and said, “I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting, sun.” That was nearly 250 years ago, and we’re still having the same debate about whether it’s morning in America or we’re in our sunset years. We want to believe in American exceptionalism, but where is the proof ? What Makes Us Different Actually, there is considerable evidence that America is on the cusp of a new renaissance, and that we will reinvent ourselves again. This subject is a favorite of mine. I’ve studied war and peace my entire adult life—on Henry Kissinger’s legendary National Security diagnosis? Council, at the White House, at Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon, even at MIT’s not so. nuclear weapons program. Throughout my career I’ve kept asking: Why do countries seem perpetually condemned to war? Why do some nations thrive, while others are left behind? And ultimately, what are the advantages and qualities that make America different? I’ve concluded that we can identify at least 10 advantages the United States has that have made us great, and will make us great again. Some were given to us by the Creator, and some we’ve created ourselves. I believe that, together, they do make America the exception to the rule.
KT McFarland is a Fox News contributor on foreign policy and national security, having served in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan Administrations. She holds degrees from George Washington University, Oxford, and MIT. This essay is based on her speech at the Western Conservative Summit on June 30, 2012. Centennial Institute sponsors research, events, and publications to enhance public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation. By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizenship, and renew the spirit of 1776.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author proclaims our problems seem insurmountable. Our political system is broken, we’re told our children can’t keep up with their Asian counterparts, and our infrastructure is crumbling—all while the Chinese build Terminal a megacity a month. Even President Obama has implied that we’re nothing special. He says sure, we may believe in American exceptionalism, but it’s no different than the Greeks or Brits believing in Greek or British exceptionalism. Morning in America, or Sunset? And the tragedy, so this account goes, is that there is nothing we can do about it, that our demise is unavoidable. It’s a universal truth that all great nations rise, have their day in the sun, and inevitably fall. Egypt, Rome, the Ottomans, Britain—and now America. We’ve had our moment and it’s nearly over; America will soon be eclipsed, and the best our leaders can do is gracefully manage our inevitable decline. It’s as if the doctor has just given America a terminal diagnosis: “We can make you comfortable along the way, but the outcome is inescapable.” But there is another theory. It holds that America is the one exception to this axiom of the rise and fall of empires. That our American ingenuity, our hard-work ethic, our

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of moats to the east and west—with the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Until the two World Wars, we could go our own way in peace. 3. Our third advantage is an agreed-upon plan for choosing and replacing our leaders. We all have a stake in the system because we all get to participate. We may complain about the political paralysis in Washington, and the Tea Party may hark back to the Founders, but no one is seriously contemplating taking up arms. When our preferred candidate loses an election, we go home and figure out how to win the next one; we don’t head for the barricades. We don’t dissolve into civil war every time we have a leadership transition. For much of world history, nations have been thrown into paroxysms of fighting every time the king died without a successor. Look at the Middle East today. Most leaders there die in office, either from natural or unnatural causes. Very few leave office voluntarily. 4. Our fourth advantage is the uniform rule of law. It’s hard for a nation to move forward if its citizens don’t know what the rules are, if the rules keep changing, or if some people don’t have to play by the rules. Americans agreed 236 years ago to all live by the same set of rules, and we’re still living by them. Some countries are plagued by endemic corruption. I’ve travelled throughout Afghanistan, where skimming off the top happens at every level from local to regional to national government. Many international companies won’t do business in Russia for fear the minute they succeed, corrupt officials will swoop in to nationalize the company or arbitrarily demand their “take.” In America, government might increase its take, in the form of taxes, but we do so under the rule of law. 5. Our fifth advantage is civilian control over the military. One of the most serious problems all nations have grappled with is the need for a strong military, but not one so strong it could dictate to the civilian leadership. Whether in South America, Asia, or the Middle East, military coups have been the rule, not the exception to the rule.

1. The first advantage America has is that we don’t fight other nations—or ourselves—over differences in religion, tribe or race. From the beginning of recorded history, peoples have fought along ethno-sectarian battle lines; whether it’s the Sunnis versus the Shiites today, or the Persians versus the Greeks in ancient times. Some have been so preoccupied with fighting each other—sometimes for millennia—that they failed to develop modern societies. It’s taken us a while, but America is in pretty good shape on this score. We may be a nation of immigrants from every corner of the earth, with members of every ethnic, religious, and racial group calling America home, but we have found a way to live together in peace. Our immigrants assimilate quickly and set about achieving the American dream rather than fighting over it.

We settle disputes with ballots, not bullets.

2. Our second advantage is geography. Some countries spend centuries fighting with their neighbors—they fight over boundaries, over resources, over colonies. India and Pakistan are still fighting over Kashmir. There are regions in Europe that the Great Powers tossed back and forth for centuries. The Portuguese and Spanish fought over their colonies in the New World. But we as Americans have been blessed with friendly neighbors: Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. We’ve got the functional equivalent

CENTENNIAL REVIEW is published monthly by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. The authors’ views are not necessarily those of CCU. Manager, Jeannie Edwards. Designer, Danielle Hull. Illustrator, Benjamin Hummel. Subscriptions free upon request. Write to: Centennial Institute, 8787 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, CO 80226. Call 800.44.FAITH. Or visit us online at www.CentennialCCU.org. Please join the Centennial Institute today. As a Centennial donor, you can help us restore America’s moral core and prepare tomorrow’s leaders. Your gift is tax-deductible. Please use the envelope provided. Thank you for your support. - John Andrews, Director
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In the United States, by contrast, General Washington’s resignation of his commission to Congress in 1783 set the standard. Then in 1787 came the constitutional designation of our elected president as commander-inchief, a safeguard against Caesarism ever since. 6. Our sixth advantage is equal rights and economic opportunities for women. Economists estimate that adding women to the workforce increases a country’s GNP by 40%. Yet many countries in the world, especially in the Middle East, refuse to even educate women. In much of Asia, women might be educated, but are discouraged from joining the workforce. Whereas, here in America, it’s now a given that women have equal access to education and employment opportunities. 7. Our seventh advantage is demographics. I call this the Goldilocks factor. In some countries, the population is growing too quickly; in others it’s growing too slowly. America’s population growth is just about right. The Arab Spring was a revolution waiting to happen, because some 75% of the population there is under 30, and they don’t have jobs. Most European countries, Japan, and Russia have the opposite problem. Their negative population growth will result in a downward spiral of GNP in the years ahead. China is facing the We continually biggest demographic reinvent ourselves. time bomb of all with its one child policy. Not only will there be too few Chinese workers caring for too many elderly retirees in the years ahead. Their preference that the one child be male also creates an imbalance that will leave nearly one-quarter of Chinese young men unable to find mates. 8. Our eighth advantage is the ability to feed ourselves. Our American continent has been blessed with rich and abundant farmlands, inland and coastal waters, and ideal weather. We can grow everything from grapes on the West Coast to blueberries on the East Coast. Our cattle and fisheries are the envy of the world. Our abundant and clean water resources are almost infinite. 9. Our ninth advantage as Americans is that we’ve always been, and remain, a nation of entrepreneurs. Napoleon once called Britain a nation of shopkeepers. Well, America is a nation of do-it-yourselfers. We like entrepreneurs. We believe in social mobility. I can hear someone objecting that now, with unemployment stubbornly high and the economy stagnating, this may no longer be true. My answer is that our history shows we’ve been able to continually reinvent ourselves. Every time we’re counted out, we come back. And we will do so this time.

Voi ces of CCU THE ONLY WORTHY EXCEPTIONALISM by Kevin Miller
Is America exceptional in human history? KT McFarland answers yes. But can any earthly nation be eternally exceptional? On the basis of Christian truth, none can. Consider the story of Old Testament Israel. God showed the nation amazing favor for centuries. But the people of Israel, appointing themselves engineers of exceptionalism, compromised God’s prescriptions with idolatrous practices. They demanded a king. They mixed Baal with Yahweh in their worship. Finally, God let Israel fall through those fatal compromises. The Bible says that “righteousness exalts a nation.” And Paul instructed the Romans that righteousness is found only in Christ—it doesn’t come through legalistic approaches that foster superficial behaviors and nicelyscrubbed appearances while masking everyone’s need for a Savior. Christians shouldn’t offer fellow Americans a Norman Rockwell tableau of all-is-well government-enforced virtue as an acceptable representation of righteousness. That approach actually competes with the Gospel. Christians’ role in the public square is to proclaim a truth-telling portrait of the Cross. Wise governance is certainly needed, but it’s not the ultimate answer. The unique privilege of Christians is the advancement of the true righteousness that exalts a nation—the only worthy exceptionalism—that is found only through their faithful proclamation of the Gospel. So for KT McFarland’s thesis, two cheers. Perhaps the advantages she describes do indicate the favor of God. Regardless, however, the calling of Christians is to pursue exceptionalism for themselves and their neighbors with a clear witness for Christ and the true righteousness found only through the Cross. All else—even if labeled “Christian”—will fail in the end. No exception for any nation, including America. And putting first things first can yield civic benefits, too. Robust, persevering stewardship of the Good News of Jesus Christ is Biblically-irreplaceable, civically-astute stewardship for America. ■
Kevin Miller is Distinguished Professor and Executive in Residence in the Colorado Christian Centennial Institute University School of Business, and the author of Freedom Nationally, Virtue Locally—or Colorado Christian University Socialism.
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Centennial Review
December 2012

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By KT McFarland Is America headed into the sunset, declining as all great nations do? Or are we an exception? Factors auguring for the USA’s bright future include social peace, geography, orderly transfer of power, rule of law, civilian control of the military, women’s equality, demographics, ability to feed ourselves, entrepreneurship, and the energy bonanza.

Ten Reasons to Believe in American Exceptionalism

True, America is now a country where a lot of young people have great educations and poor job prospects. They may have been trained to expect long-term jobs in government bureaucracies and large institutional companies, but those jobs are shrinking quickly. But they’re not going to sleep on mom’s sofa forever. They’re going to go out and do what generations of Americans have done in hard times before—create new jobs.

Accordingly, since the oil embargoes of the 1970s, the U.S. has been on a quest for energy independence. Seeking energy sources that are abundant, cheap, and secure—in order to maintain and expand our economy—we’ve tried synthetic fuels, renewables like wind and solar, and energy conservation. But we’ve yet to escape our economy’s reliance on fossil fuels, of which we’ve had to import an ever-increasing share, usually at exorbitant prices.

In the last few years, however, The average young person today will have several careers, switch jobs, and Our energy exploration American energy exploration has virtually struck gold. We’ve recently work for small startup companies. virtually struck gold. developed technologies that allow us America has gone from being an to see deep underground and beneath agricultural society in the 18th century, th the ocean to search for energy. And as we looked deeper, to a manufacturing society in the 19 century, and then to a we discovered that our country has more oil reserves than technological society in the 20th century. Saudi Arabia and more natural gas than Russia. Whatever the 21st century becomes, we will lead it too, And we’ve also developed the engineering technologies because that’s what we’re good at. We’re really good at to extract and refine these energy resources safely and making the stuff you’ll need next. Who knew ten years ago economically. What this means is that we are literally sitting that you couldn’t live without a cell phone? Or five years on several hundred years worth of abundant, cheap, and ago that your phone would take pictures and show movies? secure energy. We’ve won the energy lottery. Now for the clincher: Many countries have some of these Counting Our Blessings nine advantages I have enumerated, and some countries have nearly all of them. But there’s one more that makes Why am I optimistic about America’s future? Because we our country exceptional yet again. are the only nation in the world, nay in the history of the world, to have been able to count all 10 of these blessings. 10. America’s tenth advantage is our newly discovered energy resources. We now have at hand the golden goose So despite all the nay-sayers and dooms-dayers, America’s which will allow us to grow our economy, create new jobs, future is bright. Indeed, in the unfinished saga of human and declare our independence from imported oil and history, America is truly exceptional in ways no other natural gas. nation has ever been. ■ Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, countries with enough energy to export have been wealthy beyond Register Now at Last Year’s Prices imagining. Britain and Germany led the industrial revolution of the 19th century because of their abundance WESTERN CONSERVATIVE SUMMIT 2013 of coal. The Soviet Union’s expansionism in the ‘70s and “Founding Principles Forever” ‘80s was fueled by oil and natural gas exports. The Arab oil Hyatt Regency Denver • July 26-28, 2013 states have received one of the largest transfers of national Sen. Marco Rubio* • Gov. Susana Martinez* • wealth in history. MEP Daniel Hannan*
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