In his calls to “Make America great again” Donald Trump is making both a threat and a promise. What it signifies more fundamentally, however, is that Donald Trump understands how important American exceptionalism is in US electoral politics. Hilde Restad gives an overview of the history and role of the idea of American exceptionalism in US politics. She writes that despite concerns over its end during the 1970s and 2000s, American exceptionalism never really went away, something which was proven by conservatives’ doubts about President Obama’s stated belief in the ideology.
According to the Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, “we’re not a strong country anymore.” It is a little unclear what Trump means by this, but it seems to be connected to purportedly leaky borders as well as a loss of American stature around the world. The solution to this malaise is electing Trump to the White House, because “we will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning.” In other words, if you want America to be exceptional again, definitely vote Trump.
This is all entirely unfair to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was supposed to be the candidate of American exceptionalism in this election cycle. Rubio, apparently not having read the times correctly, started his campaign for president with a traditional, optimistic Ronald Reagan-esque formulation of American exceptionalism. Foreign observers were probably confused, he offered, by the fact that the son of an immigrant bartender could run for president (apparently, Rubio is not familiar with Nicolas Sarkozy, although granted; Sarkozy’s father was a Hungarian aristocrat, not a Cuban bartender). But Rubio was simply trying to repay his debt to the greatest country on earth, he said. Rubio talked about a “new American century” for a while, but in the last weeks of 2015, he changed his tone dramatically. As Trump’s rise in the polls continued, Rubio’s brand of exceptionalism turned negative, warning potential voters of how a weakened America will be attacked by terrorists Obama has released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
So, what is American exceptionalism?
Well, you should go to the actual blog post I wrote over at LSE to find out!