What do we mean by ‘American exceptionalism?’

We had Scott Shane and Cliff May on earlier this week talking about Shane’s article in The New York Times article about American exceptionalism.

Here’s what Shane said on our air:

Politicians who are running for president and presidents themselves to a considerable degree, are reluctant, it seems to me, to be very candid about big chronic, difficult problems,” he said. “It’s fine to say, ‘Unemployment is too high and I will create millions of jobs and put people back to work’ because that’s a problem instantly followed by a solution.

May has a new post about the topic on the National Review Online. He thinks that Shane misunderstands what is meant by “exceptionalism.”

Shane opines — excuse me, analyzes — that American voters “demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary.” He goes on to assert that Americans want their presidents to be “cheerleaders,” and that this is a “national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism.”

No, no, and no. American exceptionalism does not imply that — nor is it an assertion of “American greatness,” as Shane also claims. It is something simpler and humbler: recognition that America is, as James Madison said, the “hope of liberty throughout the world,” and that America is different from other nations in ways that are consequential for the world.

-Stephanie Curtis, social media host