The idea of America striving to be exceptional is a good one. We should be exceptional, or working towards it. So should any nation.
The trouble is, most people who talk about American exceptionalism don’t actually think we should strive for it. They think we’re already there. Not only that, but anyone who doesn’t say the magic words “American exceptionalism” clearly doesn’t love the USA (an article at The Nation looks at some of the 21st century uses of the term). We don’t have to do anything exceptional because whatever we do is exceptional. We’re American so it has to be. It’s the equivalent of cheap grace, the theological term for people who think getting saved is easy — no sacrifice, no commitment, it’s a snap.
Enough. If we’re going to talk about American exceptionalism, let’s talk about it as an aspiration, not a congratulation. When we discuss it should be in terms of how we’re going to be exceptional or stay exceptional.
By robust, dedicated support of the rights of all American.
By pushing for equality for minorities, religious minorities, women, gays (also whites, Christians, men, straights, but they’re a lot less oppressed).
By pushing for an economy that works for everyone, not just the people at the top (how we get there from here I’m not sure about).
By questioning authority.
Let’s not celebrate exceptionalism, let’s achieve it.