American Exceptionalism, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

Feb 25th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

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America is exceptional and unique.  Its exceptionalism has a moral, an ethical, a spiritual and a political dimension to it.  There really is no other nation quite like the US—and that is at the heart of its exceptionalism.  Let me highlight a few of these distinctive aspects.  The United States was birthed as a nation when two powerful forces came together in the 18th century—the desire for both political liberty and religious liberty.  The 13 colonies of Great Britain were each planted separately and for different reasons.  Each developed uniquely with diverse institutions.  The first unifying event in the colonies was the First Great Awakening, which occurred during the 1720s through the 1760s.  Virtually every person in the 13 colonies was affected by this revival, especially through the ministry of George Whitefield.  Historians have long documented the enormous impact of this revival—denominationalism, a desire for the separation of church and state, and a strong sense of the spiritual significance of life.  Religious liberty emerged as a core value of the colonies as every expression of the Protestant Reformation came to America.  The pluralism of choice ensured that there would be no established church and that religious conscience would be protected.  The commitment to political liberty came from the European Enlightenment, and the Declaration of Independence, penned by Jefferson, offers the best example of this.  As historian Henry May has argued in The Enlightenment in America, the revival of the First Awakening balanced the Enlightenment, producing what he called America’s Moderate Enlightenment, which emphasized balance, order and freedom.  There was no guillotine in America.  Further, Abraham Lincoln, in the Emancipation Proclamation and in his Gettysburg Address, applied these life-changing principles to slavery and declared that the Civil War was not only about preserving the Union; it was about applying “all men are created equal” to the African-American slave.  They would be freed.  This same understanding was applied to women and their enfranchisement through the 19th Amendment.  America is something new in human history and it is quite exceptional.  That is why tens-of-millions of human beings have sought passage to America, the land of freedom.  People are not beating down the doors to get into Russia; we still have millions of people who would do anything to come to America.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 with its radical Marxism-Leninism and its militant atheism almost destroyed Putin’s nation.  Russia is still reeling from that horrific experiment in communist radicalism.

But is America losing its exceptional uniqueness?  The irreplaceable combination of religious liberty and political liberty that produced the Independence movement and the gradual expansion of what “all men are created equal” really means, is deteriorating into a destructive embrace of Postmodern autonomy, relativism and radical pluralism.  Our values, morals and ethical standards now resemble the socialist nations of Europe.  Individual initiative and trust are being replaced by an entitlement mentality that eats away at liberty and freedom.  I believe that we should defend the notion of American exceptionalism in a robust and forceful manner, but with humility.  Our nation is a product of unique forces, including the providence of God.

In seeking to build a friendship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, I believe that President Trump is undermining the exceptionalism of America.  Let me explain.  In a recent interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump suggested a moral equivalency between the United States and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  O’Reilly condemned Putin “as a killer,” to which Trump replied “We’ve got a lot of killers.  What do you think?  Our country’s so innocent?”  Many objective, intellectually honest Americans would have every right to call Trump’s equivalency moral treason!  Trump seems to be leveling a moral indictment of the nation he leads!  As Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens correctly argues, “In this reading, Mr. Putin’s behavior isn’t so different from ours.  It’s largely the same, except more honest and effective.”  This is the same charge the radical left was making in the 1960s and 1970s during the heights of the Viet Nam war (see comments by Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, etc.).  David Satter of the Hudson Institute appropriately observes that “Never before has an American president implied that political murder is acceptable or that the US is guilty of similar crimes.”  Consider these developments in Putin’s Russia:

  • Last week Vladimir Kara-Murza, a political activist and journalist, was hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning. The motive for the poisoning may lie in statements he made to the US Senate over the egregious human rights violations in Putin’s Russia.  Kara-Murza is in a coma, suffering organ failure and fighting for his life.
  • On 27 February 2015, Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Russian opposition, was shot dead as he crossed the Moskvoretsky Bridge in the shadow of the Kremlin in Moscow.
  • Alexei Navalny (a prominent blogger) and Mikhail Kasyanov (former prime minister) have been physically attacked.
  • In Trump’s observation about the moral equivalency between the US and Russia, he is in effect aiding the elaborate and effective propaganda machine of Vladimir Putin. “Mr. Trump’s statements suggesting that Russia and America are similar in abusing human rights and the US also has ‘killers’ will be quoted by the [Russian] government, state-run media and other anti-opposition forces for years.”  Trump’s comments also undermine America’s moral authority, making it more difficult to hold Russia accountable for its atrocities in Syria and Ukraine.

Satter is certainly correct when he argues, “. . . Mr. Trump’s ‘respect’ for Mr. Putin leaves little room for criticism.  If the US president is not concerned about political murders, what basis does he have for objecting to the indiscriminate meting out of death from the air? . . . Mr. Trump’s readiness to condone murder in the pursuit of an ill-advised US-Russia partnership suggests that he doesn’t see the difference between a defensive war and the murder of one’s own people to hold on to power.”

President Trump organized his campaign around the phrase, “Make America Great Again.”  I assume he still sees that as one of the key goals of his administration.  His pursuit of Vladimir Putin at any cost undermines his credibility, undermines the exceptionalism of American civilization and destroys the moral and ethical authority of the United States in the world today.  There is no moral equivalency between the United States and Russia.  Trump defies all reasonableness and all common sense in arguing that there is.  He should be ashamed of himself.

See Max Fisher in www.washingtonpost.com (12 September 2013); Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (14-15 September 2013); David Satter in the Wall Street Journal (7 February 2017); and Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal (7 February 2017). PRINT PDF

4 Comments to “American Exceptionalism, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin”

  1. Richard Pendell says:

    The new Soviet government is still deeply rooted in the old, morally bankrupt Communist ethic of dialectical materialism. The Russian Orthodox Church is tolerated only insofar as it serves and promotes the interests of the government. When Jimmy Carter’s efforts brought thousands of Russian Jews to the U.S. in the mid-80’s, they left absolutely everything behind, but the clothes they wore. I became friends with many of them in Los Angeles and they all described their transition to the U.S. like prisoners being released from a life sentence.

    Both Putin and Trump are older men who want to see their countries “be great again” by any and every means possible. Both are completely self-serving. The Soviet government is on ‘life support’ and desperately needs the U.S.to help advance its economic and political goals. President Trump sees this as a business opportunity he can’t pass up and he’s never let ‘doing business with the Devil’ stand in his way before now. If Congress fails to keep him in check, we will continue our free-fall from exceptionalism and our light will continue to fade. We will indeed become the moral equivalent of Vladimir Putin.

  2. Peter Wiebe says:

    Believe me, my parents and I “escaped” from Russia’s influence about seventy years ago, and as my mother once said when asked if she would ever like to go back for a visit, “We escaped once and I’ll NEVER take that chance again!” I have absolutely no interest in letting Putin or any other communist government get control. Having said that, I cannot understand the dishonesty, in my opinion, the level of lopsidedness I see from the media and also some here. You seem to completely ignore that dangerous policies that were Hillary Clinton’s agenda. I heard Hillary say, “Christians in America must deny their faith in every aspect of society. This is the great unfinished business of the 21st century.” She said, ” . . . and the deep-seated religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed . . . Kneel, and deny your Christian faith!” Is this what you support? I hope not!
    Do I want America to be under the same influence as Russia? Absolutely NOT! However, world leaders do have to talk to each other and I also believe that you don’t start with hostilities. Nobody seems to remember Hillary Clinton’s policies with various governments that we are very much opposed to. Why no outcry there?
    What I find so devastating is that there seems to be so little integrity and honesty displayed in society with Trump being 100% evil and the suggestion then becomes that Clinton is 100% right. This is totally dishonest and so I find it difficult to believe what the prevailing accusations that are made. If you look at the women’s protest walk that was held right after inauguration day, that the media covered so prominently, and many Christians supported the “movement”. Placards displayed “Love trumps hate” but there was little evidence of love that these protesters displayed. They displayed their own character as many were extremely violent, attacking those who did not agree with them. A Seventy-one year old lady broke her ankle when she was rudely shoved by the love-promoting protesters. Smashing vehicles and destroying property and setting fire to cars and buildings is NOT showing “Love trumps hate! Leaving a huge mess after the march for others to clean up does not show “Love trumps hate”. One of the leaders of the movement was a woman who had recently been released from prison for her involvement for a horrendous crime where she had her pleasure in torturing an innocent man to death just to see how much torture he could stand before he died. One of her techniques was to use pliers to squeeze his testicles. Now tell me, as an alternative, whom would you rather have for President? Do you really believe all the violent protesting is advancing democracy in America? You know as well as I do that Obama did many ridiculous and in some cases, and signed illegal Executive Orders. Then he promoted this ridiculous “bathroom” order that was resisted by some states and overwhelming endorsed by other states. I hope people can be honest and see what we might have had, and then be a little honest in our discussions about Trump. I have no particular love for the man, but I do see him trying but it doesn’t matter what he does, there is nothing but total dishonesty in the constant attack on him. When Clinton was building the “barrier” between California and Mexico, nobody made a fuss. When Obama signed an Executive Order banning folks from some countries, there was no fuss. Do I believe in this current ban? That’s not the point. My point is, let’s encourage the media and the rest of us to practice a little integrity and honesty. I am really very sick and annoyed when I see only bias. In my thoughts, I can see America being in considerably worse off had Hillary won, but the media would have been complimenting and supporting her destructive agenda. I would hope Christian leaders would honestly look at what Hillary Clinton would have done and what Donald Trump is attempting to do. This deluge of constant revolting opposition and destructive protesting cannot be seen as anything positive. Let’s behave and act with a little integrity, please.

    • jim eckman says:

      I think you missed my point Peter. I said nothing about Clinton nor her advocacy positions. I merely wanted Christians to think critically about the policies of our president and not simply fall in lock step with everything he is choosing to do or say. To think critically is a virtue. To evaluate all things with wisdom, discernment and understanding is part of our calling as Christians. This is not politics; this is exercising our God-honoring mind.

  3. Michele McAloose Butler says:

    “To think critically is a virtue. To evaluate all things with wisdom, discernment and understanding is part of our calling as Christians. This is not politics; this is exercising our God-honoring mind.” The words of a fine teacher. Thank you. Politics, policies, politicians–how did all of this get tangled up in the basic truth of what we are called to be–humble servants.

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