Michael Lind: The Case Against "American Exceptionalism"






Michael Lind is Policy Director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation and is the author of "The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution."

"There is no denying it: America is the greatest country in the world," according to Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and Republican presidential candidate, writing in the March issue of the American Spectator. Cain is upset that President Obama, while in France, did not inform the French and other Europeans that, compared to us, they were inferior and unexceptional....

So says the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, pizzas and mafia godfathers being as American as apple pie. You might expect a little more modesty from the would-be first magistrate of a country that cannot produce adequate numbers of decently paying jobs, cannot share the gains from economic growth with the majority of its people, cannot address its long-term challenges because of political paralysis, and cannot seem to achieve a clear victory in any of its three ongoing wars.

Cain’s attitude would be amusing, if it were not so dangerous to America’s future....

Americans have always been proud of their republic -- but not too proud to learn from others. When America worked, Americans did not hesitate to copy the innovative ideas and best practices of other countries.

Consider the two 19th-century "American systems." One was what was known as the American system of manufacturing -- the use of interchangeable parts in production. The other was the American System of Henry Clay and his allies and disciples, including Abraham Lincoln -- a coherent plan for industrializing the United States, based on a combination of infant-industry protectionism, national banking and national investments in infrastructure. Both American systems were influenced by -- cover the ears of your children, America! -- the French....




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