Tak­ing Ex­cep­tion to Ex­cep­tion­al­ism

The Covington News - - Opinion - Mau­rice Carter is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent, a na­tive At­lantan, an IT con­sul­tant by pro­fes­sion, and an ac­tive community vol­un­teer at heart. He can be reached at mau­ricec7@bel­lsouth.net.

“Amer­i­can Ex­cep­tion­al­ism” is a cen­tral theme for Mitt Rom­ney and those who gath­ered this week at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. For many con­ser­va­tives, un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in the in­her­ent good­ness, unique char­ac­ter, and global su­pe­ri­or­ity of the U.S. is a min­i­mum re­quire­ment for ad­mis­sion to the circle of “real Amer­i­cans.” In their eyes, Pres­i­dent Obama’s will­ing­ness to apol­o­gize to other nations and peo­ples — more so than ques­tions about his birth­place — makes him un­wor­thy of cit­i­zen­ship in “Real Amer­ica.”

It’s a point of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion Rom­ney ex­ploits reg­u­larly. “Let me make this very clear,” he told an au­di­ence at the Ci­tadel in 2011. “As Pres­i­dent of the United States, I will de­vote my­self to an Amer­i­can Cen­tury. And I will never, ever apol­o­gize for Amer­ica.”

The mes­sage is: our na­tion can do no wrong. In the minds of some, ac­knowl­edg­ing our flaws means for­feit­ing one’s sta­tus as a “Real Amer­i­can.” It’s a viewpoint lead­ing to sit­u­a­tions like Florida Con­gress­man Alan West telling Pres­i­dent Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi to “get the hell out of Amer­ica.”

It’s the same logic caus­ing fel­low colum­nist Wil­liam Perug­ino to re­act force­fully to my re­cent col­umn on the in­di­vid­u­al­ism of Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand. Though I made no ref­er­ence to Amer­ica’s global stand­ing or any phi­los­o­phy of world lead­er­ship, Perug­ino felt I was try­ing to “den­i­grate Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism.”

I freely pledge al­le­giance to this great coun­try where I was for­tu­nate to be born. It is a place I am proud to call home. But, I do not em­brace the no­tion of ex­cep­tion­al­ism.

Rom­ney doesn’t take is­sue with the par­tic­u­lars of the pres­i­dent’s apolo­gies. He and many con­ser­va­tives are against any apol­ogy. Pe­riod. And, that blind faith in per­sonal and na­tional in­fal­li­bil­ity is what I find trou­bling.

Those who ques­tion Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism of­ten ar­gue the U.S. is no longer supreme on the global stage. But, while you can make the case our stan­dard of liv­ing, qual­ity of life, or ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem are not al­ways sec­ond to none, that’s not the point. I don’t re­ject Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism be­cause it’s not true; I op­pose it be­cause it’s not healthy for Amer­ica.

In my 30-year busi­ness ca­reer, I’ve en­joyed ex­ten­sive lead­er­ship train- ing from some of the world’s best pro­grams. Never — not once — have I been taught that ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship springs from in­fal­li­bil­ity. Cling­ing to the need to be right is a blind spot from which much dam­age is done.

We needn’t get philo­soph­i­cal; keep it sim­ple. If you played high school or col­lege sports: was the most ex­cep­tional ath­lete the one who told you how great he or she was? Or, was it the per­son in the gym, on the field, or in the weight room — al­ways work­ing harder, never sat­is­fied with good enough, im­prov­ing ev­ery day? Great­ness isn’t some­thing we de­clare; it’s a sta­tus we earn and re­tain by rec­og­niz­ing and ad­dress­ing our short­com­ings.

Among in­di­vid­u­als and be­tween nations, lead­ing on the world stage is about re­la­tion­ships. Does it pro­duce good re­sults in your own life when you ap­proach fam­ily, friends, or col­leagues, with the at­ti­tude you are al­ways right and they are in­fe­rior? Ca­pa­bil­i­ties and con­fi­dence are key in­gre­di­ents of ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship, but hu­mil­ity and in­clu­sion are also in­dis­pens­able.

Amer­i­can his­tory is filled with great­ness, but don’t con­fuse ex­cel­lence with per­fec­tion. It’s a quaint view to see our found­ing as the in­spired act of supremely wise men touched by a divine hand. And, in that mo­ment, per­haps it was. But, as pro­found as those events were in the course of hu­man his­tory, ours was not an im­mac­u­late con­cep­tion. The lofty words of our Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and Con­sti­tu­tion were crafted by im­per­fect men who shack­led fel­low hu­man be­ings in the bru­tal bonds of slav­ery. It would take an­other 87 years and 700,000 lives lost in need­less, bloody con­flict to break those bonds. Amer­i­can women en­dured 144 years and many failed at­tempts be­fore fi­nally earn­ing the right to vote. Our spe­cial char­ac­ter doesn’t come from never be­ing wrong; it’s achieved by not quit­ting un­til we get it right.

We can’t change the past. But, we can also never truly leave it if we refuse to learn the lessons of our mis­takes as well as our tri­umphs.

The Amer­i­can story is filled with ex­cep­tional ac­com­plish­ments. But con­tin­ued great­ness is not a per­pet­ual birthright granted across gen­er­a­tions for eter­nity. It is some­thing we earn each day by mea­sur­ing our­selves against the most im­por­tant yard­stick of all: the aware­ness of how much bet­ter we can be.


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