Letter: Thoughts on Bill O’Reilly’s "American Exceptionalism"

Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

Editor,

Columnist Bill O’Reilly asked: “Just how can America remain exceptional?” Sept. 24. This is, he believes in American exceptionalism, which Russian leaders are challenging today. First, it was Vladimir Putin who claims there is no such thing as “American exceptionalism.”

Then it was Alexei Pushkov. But O’Reilly admitted that the U.S. does not have “the moral authority to call out Russia today.” Why? He implies it’s because President Obama has a dark side. That is, he’s evil.

Meaning what?

Chris McDonald expressed the far-out right wing meaning of evil thusly in an editorial in the Tennessee Star Journal (Sept. 18-24): “When our President’s heart is to embrace the Muslim world more so than the Christian world ...” Rubbish!

Founding father John Adams, our second president, and first minister to Great Britain following independence, and in 1789 he was elected vice president, receiving the second-highest total of electoral votes after George Washington. Yes, that man who was in “the forefront of the drive for independence” — “no one was more deeply involved in the constitutionalism of the American Revolution” (Gordon Wood) — was the first American founder who denied the emerging myth of American exceptionalism as the hopes of 1776 had disappeared.

By the 1780s what Adams had feared all along was too evident to deny. That is, Americans had “never merited the character of the very exalted virtue,” and it was foolish to have “expected that they should have grown much better” (Adams to James Warren, Jan. 9, 1787). For Adams, after his long stay as minister in Europe, Europe represented only what America had already become. That is, their nature as the same as others.

When Adams made it clear that his divergence from his countrymen on American exceptionalism, that fact could nt have been more of a fundamental difference. And he paid a dear price for his honesty. This, however, was only one of many reasons why “Adams steadily isolated himself from the main line of American intellectual development” (Wood).

Like most other Americans, Adams began full of enthusiasm for the future — he waxed and waned. But after his European experience, he had no illusions on this point that blinded him to reality: Americans were, simply put, like all other people, with “no special providence.”

Because Adams tried to convince his countrymen of this “fact,” he fell from grace so to speak — and he was left of most lists of “famous founders” until David McCullough wrote his bestselling biography “John Adams.” Only this popular historian, with perhaps slight exaggeration, could manage to reinstate the irritable Bay Stater among the famous founders. But he did, in spite of his irascibility and vainness.

Does it bother you like it does O’Reilly to know that Putin has a strong historical point?

Politically, Obama has been forced to claim American exceptionalism, but I think he believes it about like me: There’s hope for such.

Finally, can we become exceptional? Yes, but will we be?

B.J. Paschal

Pigeon Forge