My experience with this term boils down to a simple observation. Any time you hear a politician invoke ‘American Exceptionalism’ check the context carefully. It invariably is used to justify some foreign policy that we would find threatening or reprehensible if done by another country to us.
The term has at it’s heart the idea that America’s morals are superior and it’s motives are pure – therefore it’s actions are beyond reproach. It is how we solve the dilemma of our national conscience. If we would be inclined to feel guilt for effecting the overthrow of a sovereign foreign nations government – American Exceptionalism tells us that we are justified because in our piety – we have no designs on claiming the territory for our own. If we sense the tinge of self doubt as to our status as the only nation that has employed a nuclear weapon of mass destruction, American Exceptionalism comforts us with the reassurance that our impeccable character and humane values justified our use of force then and reinforce our natural moral superiority as a nuclear superpower today.
The list could go on. Any aspect of American history which would be monstrous if done by another country to us will be whitewashed in our minds behind this concept that America is an exception among the world’s self interested and immoral nations.
While she is unique in her founding and nature, I am not certaIn that this gives her this form of license.