I started reading Ramesh Ponuru and Rich Lowry's article on American exceptionalism this morning, expecting that it would start an interesting week-long or so debate about what makes America America. Damon Linker in the New Republic gave the article a few points for "well-timed concessions", and so I thought perhaps it would really be thoughtful.
But this sentence tripped me up:
It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth.
There are five adjectives there. I won't disagree with "more individualistic" or "dynamic", and let's leave aside "more open" for vagueness. But the statement that America is "freer" or "more democratic" than literally every other society on earth, is argued largely through the quotations of founding fathers and Lincoln, as if saying something made it so. Then there is a bit of half-hearted comparison to other democracies, but it cherry-picked, and often represents only dubious proxies for "freedom" (government spending as a percentage of GDP) or aspects of "democracy" of dubious value (the fact that America elects rather than appoints many officers like sheriffs and judges). Read more