New York Times reporter Scott Shane wrote in a op-ed published in the Dallas Morning News last Sunday that he does not like the concept of American Exceptionalism. See this link.
“Imagine a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States trails its economic peers.
“What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the U.S. ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the U.S. trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility.
“How far would this truth-telling candidate get? Nowhere fast.” Fortunately, he is correct.
I dispute Shane’s characterization of the hypothetical candidate as “truth-telling” or his message as “blunt honesty.”
For one thing, Shane cites numerous statistics, the provenance of which are not disclosed, and reliability not established. Statistics are not facts, they are manipulation (and I do not use this word pejoratively) of facts, nearly always presented in isolation, and without disclosure of underlying assumptions and methodology of ascertainment. For example: Child poverty rank 34th? Where does that figure come from. How is a “child” defined? Persons younger than ???? Children are generally not counted except within a family unit. “Poverty” is defined as less that a certain income for a family of four. Is that valid? Is that the definition used in Romania? What about food stamps, Medicaid, other welfare programs? Are they counted. Life Expectancy? That varies with the age is it estimated from, as well as the state of health at that age.
To the extent that any meaning can be found in any of these statistics, the do not take into consideration that the United States has one of the most diverse populations in the world. Everyone in the U.S. is a descendant of immigrants (including those whose ancestors immigrated pre-Columbian).
Insofar as the United States trailing other countries in social mobility, especially European ones, I don’t buy that one bit. Shane doesn’t even bother to allude to any source for that ipse dixit, or even bother to state his criteria. I suppose his idea of social mobility is like that of “social justice” which exists only in the mind of the person decrying the lack thereof.
Anyway, the purpose of government in American thought is to provide a means to safeguard life, liberty, and the pursuit, not the guarantee, of happiness. To that end, the United States has traditionally made individual liberty paramount. When that liberty and collective material good are in tension, freedom is supposed to win. We have Constitutional protection of nearly absolute freedom of expression that no other nation has, as well as the individual right to the means for protection of our persons and property. (Naturally, Shane scoffs at the very idea that the United States is number one in small arms ownership.) The Constitution also protects our right to due process of law for our life, liberty, or property can be taken, although the growth of administrative has been eroding the latter in recent decades.
For another, more thorough discussion of American Exceptionalism, I suggest an essay by Norman Podhoretz available at this link..