“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.
When President Ronald Reagan left office, he defined America as a “shining city on a hill,” a country that other nations would look to as a model of prosperity and freedom. Reagan, like many other presidents and politicians, lauded the country for its “American exceptionalism,” the set of beliefs that the country’s history, values and politics make it distinct and worthy of respect and leadership on the world stage.
But amid dueling crises — the coronavirus pandemic and the racial reckoning — belief in American exceptionalism has been deeply shaken. A staggering 62 percent of Americans no longer see their country as the “shining city on a hill” that Reagan once imagined, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll revealed. Outside the U.S., Europeans’ trust in America has also deteriorated, according to a European Council on Foreign Relations poll.
Americans are facing the highest coronavirus case count and death toll in the world, a lack of national pandemic strategy and a financial crisis, while grappling with the country’s dark racial legacy. Doctors lack proper personal protective equipment, governors have been left to handle their states’ responses without much aid from the federal government, and hospitals in multiple states have been overwhelmed to the point of having no ICU beds. The pandemic’s effects on health and unemployment have hit communities of color the hardest, especially Black, Latino and Native American populations. And months into the crisis, Americans marched for racial justice as the protests against the police killings of Black Americans became what may be the largest protest movement in the history of the country.
Why there’s debate
The U.S. coronavirus response and the racial reckoning have brought into question where America stands on the world stage. Most agree — and polls show — that the U.S.’s response to the pandemic has negatively affected its global reputation.
Some believe this is the end of American exceptionalism. They say the public health crisis marks the end of America’s status as a superpower, as international health experts criticize the country’s virus response. They point to many pandemic response failures — from the country’s inability to produce even the most basic medical equipment for its health care workers to its struggle to restart sports. It’s time for America to learn from the rest of the world on the coronavirus response, they say. America’s standing in the world order may shift soon, they warn, pointing to the possibility of the crash of the U.S. dollar and the decline of the value of an American passport.
Others point to America’s failures to grapple with its racist past. They say the structures that caused the racial injustice now being protested have been in place for decades, and the pandemic and recent police killings of Black Americans simply forced them into the spotlight, causing many white Americans to reckon with them for the first time. American exceptionalism has always been hypocritical, they say, arguing that the country struggles to fix its own problems while proclaiming its superiority to the rest of the world.
But while the pandemic has mostly brought pity and criticism from other nations and frustration within American borders, the mass protests for racial justice have also brought, for some, a reason to hope. When thousands of Americans marched for justice, citizens of other countries followed suit, spilling into the streets. Some say this shows that other nations still look at America as a model for social change. The decline of American exceptionalism, they say, could ultimately be what makes the country stronger than ever before.
Experts don’t believe the coronavirus pandemic will end until a successful vaccine is developed. Though protests for racial justice are slowing, changes are rippling through society, from the toppling of Confederate statues to countless promises of corporate diversity initiatives. In November, Americans will vote in the presidential election, which will likely have a significant impact on the country’s next steps in response to the pandemic and the racial justice movement.
The pandemic will be the end of American exceptionalism
“The virus has put the realities of wealth inequality, health insecurity, and poor work conditions under a high-powered microscope. Fading from sight are the days when this country’s engagement with the world could be touted as a triumph of leadership when it came to health, economic sustenance, democratic governance, and stability.” — Karen J. Greenberg, the Nation
American exceptionalism is hypocritical
“Americans’ vision of their country’s exceptionalism — as a nation so superior to others, it can change the world — too often clashes with its culture of guns, mass incarceration, death penalty and war on drugs.” — Alfredo Corchado, Washington Post
America’s declining reputation could change how the world treats its citizens
“Despite the good works of many governors and mayors, the heroic efforts of nurses and doctors, and months of dutiful hand-washing, social-distancing, and mask-wearing by millions of Americans, the U.S. is being judged by its sickest states and most reckless politicians. ... It could also limit Americans’ economic activity and freedom of movement in ways that citizens of the world’s leading power are unaccustomed to seeing. — Juliette Kayyem, the Atlantic
The lack of sports shows how our American exceptionalism failed
“We did most of the work and then walked away from the job, buoyed by a subconscious belief that the rules never quite apply to these United States as they do to other nations, who saw the task through and flattened and then beat their curves back into the ground. That’s why they have sports and we don’t.” — Leander Schaerlaeckens, Yahoo Sports
The U.S. needs to recognize it has to learn from the world
“To learn is to admit room for improvement, and thus to improve, especially in dealing with modern-day threats such as pandemics, which America doesn’t have much experience contending with as a superpower. The United States could, for example, easily seize on the momentum among many of its allies to pool lessons learned and coordinate policies to combat the virus and reopen economies.” — Uri Friedman, the Atlantic
American exceptionalism supports the broader interests of the community
“What has been lost from sight in too many accounts of the founding is the invitation that was extended to all Americans to acquire historical significance by advancing the success of our ambitious experiment in democratic-republican government. That invitation has been broadly extended to many groups over time.” — David Marion, Washington Times
There is still reason to believe in the American Dream
“I understand that people are feeling especially critical of America right now. But I hope we can still celebrate what’s best about Americans, whether we are taking care of sick patients, fighting for racial justice, helping neighbors with groceries or simply showing each other respect by wearing masks.” — Raed Ayoub AlDelayme, Chicago Sun-Times
American exceptionalism needs to be reimagined
“To respond to COVID-19, global warming, political corruption and tribal and religious conflicts, we need leadership like never before. The world needs us as well. The European Union is fragmenting, China is intimidating smaller powers with its military and economic power, and Russia is no better than it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall.” — Thomas Reese, Salt Lake Tribune
American exceptionalism is on the decline — and that could help us fix the U.S.
“Normally, of course, reduced patriotism or institutional trust would not be positive developments. These declines can be constructive only if they spur the public — and elected officials — to create conditions that would inspire more patriotism and trust. ... Maybe a more realistic assessment of our flaws — a crack in the national narcissism — will motivate change, at least if politicians ever catch up with their constituents.” — Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
The world is still looking toward America as a model
“In the United States, the world sees itself, but in an extreme form: more violent and free, rich and repressed, beautiful and ugly. Like Dickens, the world expects more of America. But as le Carré observed, it is also, largely, an aesthetic thing — we don’t like what we see when we look hard, because we see ourselves.” — Tom McTague, the Atlantic
The protests show what America has the potential to become
“The Black Lives Matter protesters have demonstrated what the United States should be, the promise of becoming a shining city on a hill — a place in which government works for the people, a nation in which those who abuse law and lives are held accountable, a country that affirmatively dismantles and remedies racism and advocates equality.” — David Kaye, Foreign Policy
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