David Brooks on “The American Idea and Today’s G.O.P.”

Brooks, David

Here is a brief excerpt from an especially thoughtful article written by David Brooks for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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America was settled, founded and built by people who believed they were doing something exceptional. Other nations were defined by their history, but America was defined by its future, by the people who weren’t yet here and by the greatness that hadn’t yet been achieved.

American founders like Alexander Hamilton were aware that once the vast continent was settled the United States would be one of the dominant powers of the globe. There was also a religious eschatology — a belief, dating back to the Puritans, that God’s plans for humanity would be completed on this continent, that America would be the “last best hope of earth,” as Lincoln put it.

Herman Melville summarized this version of American exceptionalism in his novel White Jacket: “The future is endowed with such a life that it lives to us even in anticipation. … The future [is] the Bible of the free. … God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls.”

Today there are some conservative commentators and Republican politicians who talk a lot about American exceptionalism. But when they use the phrase they mean the exact opposite of its original meaning. In fact, they are effectively destroying American exceptionalism.

These commentators and candidates look backward to an America that is being lost. Ann Coulter encapsulated this attitude perfectly in her latest book title, Adios, America. This is the philosophy of the receding roar, the mourning for an America that once was and is now being destroyed by foreign people and ideas.

Out of this backward- and inward-looking mentality comes a desire to exclude. Donald Trump talks falsely and harshly about Hispanic immigrants. Ben Carson says he couldn’t advocate putting “a Muslim in charge of this nation.”

During George W. Bush’s first term there wasn’t much difference between how Democrats and Republicans viewed the overall immigration levels. Republicans were about eight percentage points more likely to be dissatisfied with the contemporary immigration flows. But now the gap is an astounding 40 percentage points. Eighty-four percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats are dissatisfied with the current immigration level, according to Gallup surveys.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Brooks became a New York Times Op-Ed columnist in September 2003. He has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.” He is the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense, both published by Simon & Schuster. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, published by Random House in March 2011. His latest book is The Road to Character, also published by Random House (April 2015). As he explains, “I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”

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