In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Mr. Klain continues to explain this idea that he credits to Obama during his second-term. He argues that the political left in the US should reclaim the idea of American Exceptionalism, but that the focus should not be on the military might of the US. Rather, it should be “on the extraordinary acts that Americans perform to help others in need….” This approach is evidenced Hillary Clinton’s campaign phrase, “America is great because America is good.” Humanitarian relief and international aid should take center stage.
However, there are a number challenges that go along with this progressive approach to American Exceptionalism. Thoughtful reflection leaves little doubt that the US has a long track-record of supporting dictators and regimes abroad for reasons of pure self interest. Humanitarian aid can often result in a bandaid for systemic problems that does more to make the “helper” feel good and leaves the recipient disempowered. How does the US overcome its legacy of imperialism in many parts of the world, where “help” from the US has made the lives of millions of people worse off?
Yet, the rise of nationalism in the US and abroad has recently swelled to frightening proportions. The Doomsday Clock, which measures how close the world is to nuclear catastrophe, is closer to midnight than any other time besides 1953 when the US and Russia had both tested hydrogen bombs. Additionally, the Trump administration is requesting a 10% increase in military spending for the US government, including nuclear modernization. In the US, it is clear that there needs to be an alternative vision of the future, not just for the country but the world.
Is a progressive American Exceptionalism a part of such a vision? And if so, how?