Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

American Exceptionalism in the Rearview Mirror

There’s a battle outside, and it’s raging.’

From the beginning Americans have been proud of a self-perceived national exceptionalism: intellectual, physical, and moral. While Europeans wrangled continental wars between feudal factions of themselves, our initial European explorers and settlers broke exotic (to us) ground in a New World. We eventually split from that Old World with a defining rebellion.

The global industrial revolution made us virtual rulers of an entire hemisphere. Our capitalism became a worldwide economic and political model with the Rockefellers, Du Ponts, Carnegies, Astors, and Vanderbilts as our 19th-century oligarchs.

Geographic isolation allowed us to choose our 20th-century battles and tip the outcomes of two world wars in favor of our principal forebears. With vast continental resources unscathed by war, we excelled each time and underscored our ascendancy.

Americans alive today have known an America only in recurring roles of international leadership, determinant of combat outcomes, engine of economic growth, groundbreaker in scientific advancement, model of modern democracy, contender in international sport, and a center for arts and culture. American Exceptionalism.

There are cracks in the façade, but we mostly refuse to acknowledge them. Our Civil War continues to be fought over racism that went quiet but never went away. Our religious and societal intolerances escape headlines while being reinforced in private enclaves. Our cultural stratification is ingrained on ethnic, economic and regional foundations.

Now the morally weak and intellectually vacuous Trump presidency gives tacit permission to express views, abet actions, and expose behaviors that previously were considered beneath us as a nation. We are better than this. One can only hope the extreme ugly factions now apparent in our society are mere offshoots, not the mainstream. Am I clinging to an American fable?

It’s clear now American exceptionalism may always have been a myth. It was a desperate self-congratulatory cheer to Americans in the midst of hard times. Current times force us to merge Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us,” with Dylan, “There’s a battle outside and it’s raging. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle the walls.” A nation’s self-image hangs in the balance.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Volunteers in Policing Is Looking for 10 Good Men and Women

An eye-opening volunteer program at Santa Barbara Police Department.

Alvarado and Ford File for School Board

Mark M. Alvarado and Kate Ford registered to run for the Santa Barbara Unified school board.

Thousands Received DACA Relief After Lawsuits Filed

Renewal applications have totaled 117,446 since program suspension was overturned.

Bank Robbery Suspect Kills Self in Bathroom

[Update] The suspect in the Goleta Rabobank robbery has been identified as Keith David Goodwin, believed to ...

News-Press’ Found to Owe Union and Employees $2.2 Million

National Labor Relations Board puts money amount on employee losses since 2006.