David Brooks: “American Exceptionalism is Just Gone”


An excerpt from David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times:

[N]ow American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone.

Fifty percent of Americans over 65 believe America stands above all others as the greatest nation on earth. Only 27 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that. As late as 2003, Americans were more likely than Italians, Brits and Germans to say the “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” By 2010, they were slightly less likely than those Europeans to embrace capitalism.

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.

I don’t know what to do with these statistics — I just don’t. Do you?  

Weep over them, maybe?

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    #10 Joseph Eagar

    I’m 46 years old, having graduated undergrad in 1990.  Trust me, I understand what you describe — indeed, as someone grappling with long-term unemployment for quite some time now since returning to the US from Japan in late 2010, I can very much relate even if I have more gray hair.

    #12 Joseph Stanko

    The “flat-out lie” you aptly highlight traces to Herbert Marcuse.  Those in our public schools and universities who assiduously perpetuate all the other lies alluded to in your #11 comment are, of course, typically very avid Marcuse fans.  Not enough is being done to explicitly target the Marcuse legacy for eradication.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Member

    First we were attacked; almost 3000 people were killed in the space of one hour.  Then we went to war with Iraq and were unable to produce the desired outcome.  Then our economy nearly collapsed.  Then we elected a president who filled millions upon millions of people with “hope and change,” only to disappoint.  Underlying all this failure is the decline of the family and the personal insecurity of growing up with divorce.  The family, however imperfect in practice, was once an embodiment of permanence that supplied a connectedness across generations.  Now it is considered an artificial construct that we can enter and leave as we choose.  And all of this takes place in an atmosphere of enervating relativism and mindless anti-western preaching that constitutes the very mission of our educational institutions.  The teachings that our universities propagate seep into every nook and cranny of our culture. 

    It is no wonder that we are becoming a people that has lost confidence in itself.  Lileks is right to remind us that things were dismal when Reagan was elected.  But Reagan had something to tap into, which, if not gone, is now very thin.  We may, alas, justifiably weep.                               

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive

    The founding principles have been renounced. American exceptionalism is over.

    Restore them and we’ll once again have a reason to stand tall.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Thatcher

    James Lileks:

    Normally I’d agree with everything you said, but I’m feeling  pessimistic tonight.  So here’s my pessimistic spin on this:

    American exceptionalism ended in the 1970’s with the coming of age of the baby boom generation.  Since then, the economy has been propped up by a number of events that were transitory or unsustainable:  Massive deficit spending, a series of asset bubbles inflated by the Fed and foreign investment, the end of the cold war, the rise of Asia and the sudden appearance of both massive markets and new innovation.   The computer revolution and the internet revolution kept the creaky ship afloat, and the party continued.

    Now it’s all over.  The boomers are retiring and demanding a huge share of national wealth for their retirement, since everything is always about them.  Young people are shiftless, cynical and helpless, because that’s the way their parents raised them while stealing from  their  future.   The government is running out of other people’s money.   The Fed is near the end of its ability to pump the economy. Global markets are stagnating.   The people are turning to government to save them.

    That’s how great countries die.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member

    As I have so often heard Jay Nordlinger say on Need to Know, “decline is a choice”. The current political leadership we have choose to be mediocre – and that is apparently what people want – and that is pathetic. We need leadership to reverse this course – where in our great country can we find a conservative leader like Tony Abbott?

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Inactive

    A recently deceased friend of mine served as a loader with a German anti-aircraft team during the last year of the war.  He was 14 when the Nazis surrendered.  Germany was in far worse shape then than we are now.  It wasn’t the Marshall Plan that saved Germany.  Survival is a dynamic process and the Germans were truly free for the first time.

    Even if America goes bankrupt, this country will be leaps ahead of where Germany was in 1945.  In fact, bankruptcy might be the only thing that saves us from the tender mercies of the administrative state.  All we need is a dose of freedom.  The dynamics of necessity will take over from there.   

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    @Carver: “This is not a problem with Americans per se.”

    Americans per se send their children to be educated en masse by a hostile ideology.  The fact that our children don’t share our values is very much our fault…

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member

    The paper he works for has tirelessly mocked the very idea of American exceptionalism, and much evidence exists that Barack Obama (so impressive to Brooks) is our first President to publicly call into question American exceptionalism. 

    David Brooks isn’t telling me anything I don’t already know, I’m watching it happen and I’ve been watching him promote it.

    His columns should be ignored. They aren’t even worthy of mockery.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Member

    Their teachers, their popular culture, their news and their politicians all tell them the same thing.  It’s a wonder those numbers aren’t worse.

    It’s going to make it that much harder to turn things around, if things turn around.  At least Reagan could re-awaken a sense of greatness in the American people.  How do you re-awaken something in a current generation that never had it and were taught to disdain it?

    Decline is a choice, but people do choose decline.   Rome fell and the sun sets on the British Empire. 

    It is a consolation, however cold, that people who choice to live in a poorer and weaker country eventually get their wish and everything that comes with it.  Even if it is perfect justice, I hope it doesn’t come to that.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    Franco: David Brooks isn’t telling me anything I don’t already know, I’m watching it happen and I’ve been watching him promote it.

    Seconded. So much hand-wringing in this column from a man who spent 2008 singing the praises of the first American President who didn’t even rhetorically defer to the idea of American Exceptionalism–he openly condemned it. Mr. Brooks was very impressed by his tailor and dry cleaner, however.

    Above, A Beleagured Conservative gives a fine summary of the hard facts underlying the present malaise and especially that found in 20-30yr olds. We have some deep and serious problems that require redress, and the current political class mired in the Washington Consensus appears unable to address it.

    Never the less, none of these problems is insurmountable. The “tide of history” can be a pernicious metaphor. Renewal is still possible as there is much good that remains in American society. But it is going to require leadership who can tap into that and harness it, and who is serious about addressing these underlying problems. 

    Brooks might consider using his platform to rekindle the fire of American Exceptionalism, if he’s got the stones.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Coolidge

    I’m more inclined to believe we’re in the nadir of an American perception cycle. 


    The world was going to freeze right before it started getting warmer, now it’s going to burn right as it’s starting to get colder.

    The birth rate was going to cause overpopulation right before we found out it wasn’t. Now Johnathan Last says it will continue to crater right when others are starting to predict a rebound.

    I think it’s time to buy futures in “America.”

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Inactive

    So David Brooks realizes that America is facing an existential crisis of the soul, and his only proposed solution is “moving vouchers.”     

    I submit that people who think like David Brooks are the problem. 

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Inactive

    Why stop at moving vouchers?  How about we get those Amazon drones and airlift these people out West?  That way we can be certain that Americans migrate in a David Brooks approved fashion.  Although given the size of your average American these days, we’re gonna need a bigger drone!

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Inactive

    Considering the institution for which Brooks works, one could view this column as a a kind of gloating.  The Times, along with Hollywood and academia have been relentlessly working to undermine the ideas and institutions responsible for American exceptionalism since at least the ’60’s.  The fact that our “disappearing middle class,” people with standards-of-living higher than those of 99% of the world’s population, consider themselves “have-nots” is evidence that the Times has succeeded. 

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Coolidge

    With respect to the opinions above, I don’t think you’ll find evidence of American exceptionalism in a survey result. Obama confused the concept of exceptionalism with patriotism, and as Bret Stephens of the WSJ pointed out in 2012,  far too many people in the country (and the world) think American exceptionalism is the idea that we’re the best at everything. It isn’t.

    It’s that we’re a nation founded on a belief in human liberty, which contains within it both the power to do and undo.       ( full column)

    Americans are not fundamentally different than they were 10 years ago- they’ve had bad leadership, bad policies, a bad economy, nasty political interplay. The fact that they don’t give high marks to the country in a survey response shouldn’t surprise any of us. 

    But it’s no more a permanent condition than peace and prosperity.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member

    David Brooks: “American exceptionalism is just gone . . . and I helped!”

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Inactive

    The Western Judeo-Christian Civilization has abandoned the God of the Jews and  Christians, and remains the shell of the once great people.  America was the nation that most embraced the truth of God, and is the last to lose it, but we are now decided on the course downward.

    “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!”  —  Deuteronomy 30:19

    By abandoning the God of the Jews and Christians, we have decided on death.  

    American Exceptionalism was the result of a decision to base a nation upon an idea;  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  

    To choose against these ideas is to choose against God.  

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Inactive
    • First, there are Americans, who aren’t any better than anyone else.
    • Second, there is the “American Way,” which is a defined perspective about government, the worth of the individual, and how we can make a society that forms some kind of cohesion without simply ignoring or suppressing individuals in the process.

    Yeah, the American way is superior. It is exceptional. Those principles make otherwise-ordinary people into a superior nation.

    But if no one ever taught you the American Way, and asked you whether Americans are exceptional, all you’d consider is whether Americans are better persons than those from other countries … and you’d naturally say no.

    Or (as I think has happened with Obama and many others) if the American Way was explained, but was coupled with a catalog of America’s sins that led you to doubt that our Way was superior, then you wouldn’t agree that the American Way was really any better. How could the American Way be superior if it included slavery? Sexism? Or (fill-in-blank here)?

    Facing up to one’s sins is important, but exceptionalism shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater. 

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Inactive

    The silver lining is the source of all the anti-American sentiment, strangely enough.  It is found chiefly in the academy and schools.  The good news is these institutions are dying and losing influence with the minds of the young.  The academy has abused its position and been overrun by useless administrators, and no longer delivers a useful service to its students.  Students are becoming likely to attend university today.

    Home-school is becoming increasingly popular with parents wishing to escape a failing public school sector, and technological innovation is proving that Americans are still innovative, and observably the most innovative people on the planet.  Oddly enough, technological innovation in education is driving this shift.  So technology will save us, in a manner of speaking.

    Since we are correct, and America is actually exceptional, we ought to have faith that our position will prevail.  And since the relentless brainwashing of the academic elite only managed to move the needle over 100 years of continuous effort, we should be pretty happy with the situation, especially considering that those academics are on the way out, and we’ve just managed to put our pants on, so to speak.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Member

    Some of it is reality, the rest is the airhead factor described here  by Michael Barone.

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member

    America is still exceptional, even though a couple of generations were duped by Frankfurt School nonsense. It should be the goal of every conservative to battle against the insidious influence of the “studies” programs and their continued creations of new “Classes” in the “Class Struggle.” Women’s studies turns women into a class. Chicano studies turns Chicano students into a class. All of the classes are at war with the hegemonic white patriarchy.

    It is no longer just the capitalists who are the class to be warred against, it is the hegemonic white patriarchy. Why? Because they created a system based on individualism and not class.

    Never mind that all these ideas originated from elite white males, they know better.

    And I cannot respond to any of the David Brooks despair, or those who wallow with him, without violating the ToC. Okay…I’ll try.

    Stop lamenting. Fight for freedom. You can do so openly or subversively, but do it. Undermine the arguments against freedom and greatness. Don’t let Marxist philosophers suck the inspiration out of future generations.

    America’s exceptionalism is that it is a nation fueled by individual inspiration. Work to keep it so.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Inactive

    This is what always happens with affluent societies, isn’t it? Removal of hardships and barriers fools people into focusing on trivialities and trivializing the sacred. Who cares about reality if it’s not nipping at your heels? Comfort is king.

    Let it fall. Our society, like many modern societies, is too sick to be healed. We can’t fix America, but we can recreate it after the fall, when reality hits everyone like a sledgehammer.

    It is only in the face of hardship that one needs personal strengths like courage, charity, and ingenuity. Blessed are the poor.

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Inactive

    I wonder who will end up inheriting the remains of our civilization if we don’t turn things around.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Inactive

    @Aaron Miller: Sadly, I think you’re right.  There’s no going back, the only question is what form will the next system take.  I suspect our future is Europe, then Muslim Turkey. 

    If we’re lucky.

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Inactive

    Someone needs to say it:  David Brooks is truly one of the dumbest members of the intelligentsia today.  His sentences are all grammatically correct, but he is a moral doormat. 

    Isn’t it a shock that generations raised to believe that America was special and great believe that America is special and great, while generations raised to believe that America is flawed and corrupt don’t?

    This is the triumph of the left’s infiltration of public and higher education.  Why did Bill Ayers become an “educator”?  Why have major universities discarded Western Culture requirements?  Why do we think the Common Core curriculum includes “math” problems riddled with leftist political sentiment? 

    The problem with the generational cohorts that cause Brooks to twist his hanky is that they have been raised in an educational and media culture to dismiss traditional American values, to “celebrate diversity” and not achievement, and to praise and promote individuals because of their pigmentation, sexual practices, or X chromosomes. 

    And David Brooks will never figure that out. 

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member

    I’m not sure why anyone listens to much of what 18-25 yr olds think about anything (unless they’re your own) and luckily they have bad voting habits, and definitely why anyone would listen to what David Brooks (or the NYT) has to say. Doesn’t any media figure ever lose their reputation for anything, even with the Right? He’s probably a nice guy though/

    While I think things are very bad now, there is a lot of defeatism on our side resulting from more than just current conditions. Much of the defeatism stems from believing what the Left says. Why would anyone do that? I mean some things are easy to ferret out like global warming but others are more subtle. Polls (whose polls and what questions)? Consensus (says who)?  Do you really believe Republicans and Conservatives are simply mean? Why do we keep responding (thus repeating) this stuff ourselves? As in this article. Now that I think about it why was it even written quoting an obvious dupe?

    Isn’t this just what Obama and his ilk are trying to convince us to believe along with the more stupid stuff?

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Member

    These stats may be true about what people believe but that doesn’t mean they’re actually true (even though I’m well aware perception does matter).

    Headline: Our poorest state’s GDP is better than many European countries. Texas, alone, is in the top 15 of the richest countries in the world…I think if just one action (getting rid of or even lessening capital gains taxes) is enacted the economy would recover significantly. Think about it.
    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Inactive

    Even Jay and Mona have been more optimistic, recently!

    But I’m afraid the pessimists are right – we are doomed, doomed – mostly by the education system and one-party government bureaucracy.

    I think the 2012 election marked the end of the American era – we are now headed into uncharted waters… wait a minute, what are those Iranian warships doing off the coast?

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Inactive

    The core problem with younger generations is that they were taught to seek and expect happiness. They should have been taught to seek moral fortitude and usefulness, from which happiness is born.

    Honor is an antiquated concept. It must be resurrected.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Inactive

    Peter, you would expect what from the “younger” generation of Americans?  Those who are entering adulthood in a nation swamped in over $17 Trillion in debt.  Those who have watched, for their entire lives, “the greatest generation” sit in retirement from age 60 to 80+.  Now these young Americans are watching the baby boomers spend America away while they enter into retirment themselves….and these “youngsters” know full well who will be paying for it.  Every single one of them knows it.

    Perhaps I’m overly effected by my exposure to young Americans from my military service.  I just retired from active duty five years ago.  The attributes I would associate with 20-30 year-olds today is hard working, driven, career focused, ambitious, eager to sacrifice. 

    These poeple are the product of something, and that something is our greatest generation and their offspring.

    • #30
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