90 Miles From Tyranny : A Reminder About Us

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Reminder About Us

Republicans need to get real and put up the kind of all-out political fight that can save them from political extinction—and save the Constitution while they are at it.

In his splendid little book American Exceptionalism, Charles Murray reminds us it was foreigners who took the lead in claiming Americans are different:
For whatever else these observers might say about the United States, they all agreed on one thing: the United States was quite unlike their own or any other nation. It was exceptional.
The people who came to America were different from their neighbors who stayed behind—more self-reliant, more resourceful, more willing to face great challenges in order to seize the opportunities life in America offered. America was different because Americans were different.

Most of us have a sense of that difference, I think, and when we travel to foreign lands we are often reminded of it. Everyone who has traveled abroad has his own stories. Here is a characteristic one from the American novelist John Updike:
Once, in Kenya, I was in a safari van that broke down. The driver, a black African, and the English passengers in the van sat back waiting in the dusty heat for the notified authorities to send a repairman to us. The Americans in the van, including me, though I know little about engines, insisted on popping the hood and trying to fix the machine themselves . . . the Americans were happily willing to go from being docile passengers to dynamic auto mechanics. They felt equal to the task.
For it to work, the American Idea—government by, for, and of the people under the Constitution—requires American citizens who have that certain something that sets Americans apart.

Today, the brazen attempt to steal the presidential election raises a question: will Americans sit in the back of the van waiting for the notified authorities to rescue them from this breakdown in America’s constitutional order? Or will they pop the hood and set about fixing the engine themselves because they feel equal to the task?

On the question of whether the American people are still the exceptional people of the exceptional nation, Charles Murray hedges:
America still has exceptional aspects, but we are no longer the unique outlier that amused, amazed, and bemused the rest of the world from its founding through the first half of the twentieth century.
You can’t blame him for hedging. In general, America’s elite has, as they like to say, moved on. By and large, America’s elite prefers an unexceptional America, one that can be more easily governed by them and more easily inserted into the transnational global order they are...

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