In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “America is not good because it is great, America is great because it is good.”
The Newt Gingrich creed of “American Exceptionalism” twists this truth, making American greatness an entitlement. Gingrich assumes that, as God’s chosen people, our manifest destiny is world dominion.
But the self-insulating arrogance of this creed only makes us mediocre, isolating us from global dialog. Inferior schools, collapsing infrastructure, exhausted soldiers, corporate serfdom, a growing gap between rich and poor, and a vulture economy that thrives on debt instead of creating real jobs or products, all belie imperial failure rather than greatness.
Paralyzed by political corruption and insatiable consumerism, ours is the fate of all puffed-up oligarchies that live beyond their means on the sweat of Third World labor.
But this isn’t the apocalypse. It’s only the collapse of empire, making way for a wiser, leaner lifestyle.
We are called not to restore our own exceptionalism, but to restore exceptional rivers, forests, soil and skies. Not to rebuild corporate military power, but to rebuild community, and the covenant of care between our rich and poor. Not to conquer the planet, but to walk gently as guests of this land, trusting the sustainable wealth of the local and the small.
What is the greatest country? Earth. Who are the greatest people? Human beings. When Americans replace a sense of superiority with a celebration of one world family, we will be more joyful, more relaxed, and not so fat.