Seventy years ago today, America was brutally attacked at Pearl Harbor by an enemy that used planes as suicide bombs. A lesser nation would have been devastated. But America was no lesser nation. America was an exceptional nation. And so President Roosevelt vowed on December 8, 1941 that “the American people in their righteous might” would rise up and “win through to absolute victory.”
America’s “Greatest Generation,” in their “righteous might,” turned that day of devastation into the first day of the American Century. A century in which the “righteous power” of America would become the greatest power in world history.
A world led by an exceptional America is the only world, and the only America, that most people reading these words have ever known.
But today, just seventy years after it began, the American Century may be coming to a premature end.
Economies go up and down. Presidents come and go. But two things have endured since the American Century began. 1) since 1945, America has been a leading economic superpower and, since 1989, the world’s only superpower and 2) the majority of Americans have consistently believed in our “righteous might” as an exceptional nation.
In Ronald Reagan’s telling, American exceptionalism meant that America was not just big and powerful, but that America was also special, a “shining City upon a hill,” chosen by divine providence to be an exceptional nation with an exceptional mission in the world; to be a light of hope unto others. But, when Reagan said “you and I have a rendezvous with destiny,” he also warned that “we will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
That “thousand years of darkness” may be upon us soon.
IMF projections now show that the economic “‘Age of America’ will end and the U.S. economy will be overtaken by that of China” as early as 2016.
But the greatest challenge to this generation of Americans is not economic. It is philosophical.
This year, for the first time since records have been kept, most Americans surveyed by Pew Research no longer believe that America is exceptional.