This glib anti-Americanism manifests itself most readily when issues of race and gender are in the headlines, but it hardly ends there. MSNBC host Chris Hayes celebrated soccer's growing popularity in the U.S. because it strikes a blow against "anti-soccer trolls" who believe in American exceptionalism. "Part of embracing a truly worldwide competition," Hayes cheered, "is accepting the fact the U.S. cannot simply assert its dominance. Turns out we have to play just like everybody else."
It's ironic. In 2009, conservatives (myself included) pounced when Barack Obama seemed to dismiss American exceptionalism as an empty platitude. "I believe in American exceptionalism," Obama explained, "just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
By this standard, American exceptionalism isn't exceptional, it's a vague and meaningless form of national self-esteem, rather than a complex concept describing the uniqueness of the American founding and American character.
Liberals quickly and angrily defended Obama, saying none should dare question his patriotism, and of course he believes America is special. In May, Obama took another stab, telling West Point graduates that he believes in American exceptionlism "with every fiber of my being." But he immediately qualified what he meant by insisting that "What makes us exceptional is not flouting international norms and the rule of law; it's our willingness to affirm them through our actions."
Translation: We prove we're exceptional by playing just like everyone else - just like playing soccer!
Why liberals have become so comfortable running down America is no doubt complicated, but I think one part of the answer is obvious. Liberals tend to equate patriotism with the government. Obama was supposed to usher in a glorious new era of European-style big government. He's failed, though alas not entirely. But in the attempt he aroused a populist movement -- the tea parties -- full of people who wore their traditional patriotism on their sleeves and tricorn hats. The forces of American exceptionalism proved formidable, taking advantage of our exceptional constitutional structure to thwart European social democracy.
And liberal resentment over that fact is palpable.