How can you say America is Exceptional?

By Sylvie Legere

I started the week watching a video on the Descent of Venezuela. Sixteen years ago, Venezuela was the breadbasket of South America. A country that is as oil rich as Saudi Arabia, yet today my friend Emilio has to mail boxes of food to his mother who stayed there.  She can’t leave, and he can’t go back. Poverty, violence, sickness and deaths now devastate this country. The Descent of Venezuela video explains at a high level how it happened under Hugo Chavez.

What struck in this video were the comments of a former professor at the University of Central Venezuela, who said: “The difference in Venezuela from countries where the “rule of law” is important, is that Venezuelans believed that it is the role of the state to provide social rights, they forgot that individual rights are more important. The socialist revolution which now exists in Venezuela has had a much simpler path since it only has to appeal to the emotions of Venezuelans.”

Respect for the rule of law means that we don’t make decisions based on who the people are, their policy preferences or the circumstances of the day. We base decisions on the law.  The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is engrained in America’s consciousness. To put emotions in check, try changing the gender, the color, the education level of the people involved, change the accusation, change what is at stake. Does the process still stand? Was the rule of law respected?

This week’s Supreme Court nomination tested America’s institutions.  In July, Dr. Christine Ford sent a confidential letter to her elected representative’s office. The allegations could have been investigated confidentially, sadly the letter was leaked to the public at the 11th hour derailing the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, stirring passions, and destroying the lives of those involved. For a while it looked like the rule of mob and intimidation was going to prevail.  Senator Susan Collins of Maine explained her thought process to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. It is worth watching the presentation of her analysis.

This week showed that allegations of sexual assault are taken seriously in this country, but it also showed that any allegation needs to be corroborated with evidence.  Young girls and women need to have the support of their friends, families, co-workers, communities to speak up when assault occurs. That is the problem with which our society is faced.  Women having the courage to speak up. Courage comes from trust and belief that our system works in a way that guarantees our freedoms.

The country is at its most polarized state in decades.  With mid-term elections coming up in November, the political rollercoaster ride is likely to intensify.   

Which makes one wonder – is America truly exceptional?  Are we really the best example of freedom and democracy that the world has ever seen?

When it comes to the rule of law, free speech, property rights, the three branches of government, our electoral process and so many other aspects of civic life in America, it is helpful to pause, reflect and remember that the U.S. is an unprecedented experiment — still evolving — and unique to the world.  America is exceptional, but to believe in it and trust it we need to learn about its unique aspects so we can have the courage to speak up.

The Policy Circle’s  “Year of Conversation” focuses on the theme of “American Exceptionalism” for September and October circle discussions, featuring policy briefs on the topics of:  US Senate | US House | Elections: Election Integrity | Elections: Assessing Candidates | Elections: Campaign Finance | Free Speech | Free Enterprise | Civic Engagement

Especially with elections coming up, now is the perfect time to read through The Policy Circle’s Elections series so you are informed on how free and fair elections take place, how you can assess candidates and the basics of campaign finance.  

Through reading and discussing these briefs, circle members can become equipped with tools to better understand the ins and outs of our legislative and electoral processes and hold government accountable.  

Set your circle meeting date today so you and your circle members can decide if America truly is exceptional.  Be sure to post a meeting recap and share with others about how your discussions went.

For a complete look at the Policy Circle “Year of Conversation” curriculum, click here.

PS –  Did you miss September’s Policy Circle Leadership Summit?   Click here to read about “Creating Career Pathways”, a topic featured at the Summit with a noteworthy panel that shared innovative ways to connect people with work.  Read about or view Bank of America’s Support Services department for another example of American Exceptionalism.