American Exceptionalism popped up right at the the end of the 19th Century, and really picked up steam with the Spanish-American War. It’s the idea that America is a unique bastion of freedom and goodness in the world, and it carries with it a kind of altruistic imperialism. America is said to have some mandate to spread freedom and democracy around the world. When it comes to foreign policy, the US always has good intentions, but might have made some mistakes when carrying out those benevolent plans.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History and Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism are both satisfying critiques of this idea.