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Port: American exceptionalism isn't just a thing that happens

America can be great again. We can be exceptional. But in this moment in history, the best way to do that may be to tune out the people who are talking about those things the most.

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MINOT, N.D. — It's not a fashionable position to hold these days, but I'll write the words anyway.

I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe the principles and ideas our nation has aspired to since its founding make it exceptional, even despite the many times we've fallen short of those aspirations.

Increasingly, this is a minority point of view. A 2019 survey found that most Americans under the age of 45, including more than half of Americans ages 18 to 29, believe our country isn't exceptional.

There are a lot of reasons for this shift in the way Americans view their country. One is the rise, on the left, in the form of initiatives such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project , of what amounts to a grand unifying theory of American history that puts white supremacy and slavery as central to what our nation was organized around.

It's bunk, as a matter of plain fact, and in service of ideological aims and not truth.

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Yet left-wing extremists aren't the only people we blame for the declining belief in America's greatness. On the right we have a movement of troglodytes who have wrapped themselves in the flag, who tell us their goal is to "make America great again," who simultaneously represent the antithesis of America's exceptional ideas.

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These self-styled "patriots," who endlessly misappropriate the words of American luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, are populist nationalists who are making our country less great every time they open their mouths or make another post on Facebook.

Believers in American exceptionalism see our country as a shining beacon to the rest of the world. A place of hope and opportunity and an example to the rest of the world.

The MAGA crowd, meanwhile, spends much of its time talking about how to keep people out of America.

Ukrainian refugees? Keep them out.

Immigrants who want to come to America for a better life for themselves and their children? Keep them out.

This isn't merely opposition to illegal immigration or our chaotic and ill-enforced border policies, which are reasonable positions I and many other Americans hold. This is xenophobia grafted onto those more legitimate concerns.

The MAGA crowd talks a lot about religious liberty, and while that was a founding ideal for our nation, the only religious liberty they seem to want is for themselves.

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They claim to be for freedom of speech, but are quick to use boycotts and bullying and even government interventions (such as Florida's new war on Disney) to silence those they disagree with.

America is an exceptional place, but it's not an inherent trait. We are not exceptional because we're America. America is exceptional because generations of exceptional Americans have led the way.

I'm afraid we're losing that as our politics becomes a race to the bottom. An exercise in reactionary politics aimed at pandering to the lowest common denominator.

We can be great, we can be exceptional, but at this moment in history, the best way to do that may be to tune out the people who are talking about those things the most.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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