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?

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 90 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Profile Photo Member
    @LeslieWatkins

    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.

    Asking people of different generations to react to what is essentially a slogan says nothing very deep about either response. The wording “greatest nation on earth” hits people between 18 and 29 very differently from those over 65. The two groups grew up in disparate cultures—different worlds really—with widely varying worries and concerns. That’s what’s being reflected here, in my opinion. A better question would be: If you were told that you must leave the United States forever, to a destination of your choosing except that it cannot be a place where you have any family, and that you’d be given some time to say goodbye to friends and family, would you be upset or happy? 

    • #31
  2. Profile Photo Member
    @MiffedWhiteMale
    Totus Porcus:

    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?

    I just wanted to repeat this.

    • #32
  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MarionEvans

    There is perception and there is reality.

    Here is the perception: The rest of the world has become more American. Therefore, to the shallow and unthinking, the gap between living in America and living somewhere else, or between being an American and not being an American, does not look so wide any more. This makes American exceptionalism, and the virtues of America less obvious to some.

    Here is the reality: If there is wealth and freedom in all these other countries, it is mainly thanks to American wealth creation and foreign and trade policy. We also needed foreign oil and we needed cheap goods from China.

    Now we have our own oil and we can get cheap goods from Mexico. The rest of the world is about to get a reality check.

    Tom Friedman’s next book may be The world is no longer flat.

    • #33
  4. Profile Photo Inactive
    @JMaestro
    Leslie Watkins: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.

    Asking people of different generations to react to what is essentially a slogan says nothing very deep about either response. The wording “greatest nation on earth”…

    That’s the problem with polls — the terms aren’t defined. Greatest? As a measure of what? Nor can the polls convey exactly what each respondent means — “we’re not the greatest, Switzerland is” tells us one thing and “we suck, Cuba rules” tells us another.

    I’d like to see opinion polls taken at the end of a Civics 101 quiz. Let’s see how opinions change as people know what they’re talking about.

    • #34
  5. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @FightinInPhilly

    Question for those who think we’re doomed- why are you spending time on Ricochet? Seriously- what could possibly be the point of a 200 word post if you honestly believed that? I’m genuinely curious.

    • #35
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Marion Evans: …

    Here is the perception: The rest of the world has become more American. Therefore, to the shallow and unthinking, the gap between living in America and living somewhere else, or between being an American and not being an American, does not look so wide any more. This makes American exceptionalism, and the virtues of America less obvious to some.

    Here is the reality: If there is wealth and freedom in all these other countries, it is mainly thanks to American wealth creation and foreign and trade policy. We also needed foreign oil and we needed cheap goods from China.

    Now we have our own oil and we can get cheap goods from Mexico. The rest of the world is about to get a reality check.

    Tom Friedman’s next book may be The world is no longer flat. · 7 minutes ago

    Edited 6 minutes ago

    Not forgetting the wake up of withdrawal of so much US military protection. This has been the ONE thing Obama has accomplished for the better (with accompanying danger to us, however). They almost fully realize what it’s like to be really on their own. 

    • #36
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MikeLaRoche

    This might be the first time I’ve agreed with David Brooks since the mid-’90s,

    The American Century is over.

    • #37
  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MikeLaRoche

    The America of 2014 seems very similar to the British Empire of 1914: seemingly all-powerful with a global reach, but actually on the verge of political, economic, social, and moral collapse.

    • #38
  9. Profile Photo Contributor
    @MollieHemingway

    Mostly this just reminds me of how President Obama said:

    “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

    Would I expect this from random professors at University of Colorado? Yes. But it almost makes me laugh that the president of any country, much less our country, said this.

    • #39
  10. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @EJHill

    We’re finished as a nation, but with perfectly creased pants.

    • #40
  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Carver

    This is not a problem with Americans per se. This is a problem with 18 – 29 year old people. It used to be that by 12 or 14 a kid had a lot of independence and began to have real world experiences. You can double those ages now. It does little good to ask the worlds oldest children what they believe. In fact, belief is the substance of all their opinions since don’t actually know much.

    • #41
  12. Profile Photo Inactive
    @dittoheadadt

    David Brooks is one of the unexceptional Americans.  The guy whose “virtues” he extolled is an unexceptional American, unexceptional man, and arguably America’s worst president ever.  Thanks, David.  You helped usher in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • #42
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @DannyAlexander

    I lived in Japan off and on throughout the 1990-2010 period, and may yet be living/working there again in the near future.  

    To my mind at least, what Brooks is describing echoes to a certain extent the malaise-laden attitudes that have festered within similar age cohorts in Japan during these past couple of “lost decades.”  The asterisk I’ll put next to my assertion, though, is that there was *always* a strong current of self-recriminating thought among younger Japanese generations throughout the postwar era, extending and intensifying to the point of some pretty hair-raising quasi-Marxist radicalism.  (Now fortunately pretty firmly subsided.)

    Personally, I don’t “mind” the self-recriminatory aspect among the Japanese, so long as it doesn’t go off the radical deep end.  Japan did unspeakably horrible things in a decade-and-a-half rampage across Asia-Pacific that was motivated by nothing even remotely justifiable.  And there’s a lot of penance and self-reflection yet remaining.

    But that’s precisely why the parallel attitudinal phenomenon in the US that Brooks describes is so profoundly perverse, indeed enraging:  Warts and all, **America** has been the force for good.

    WTF, you brats?!

    • #43
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @TeamAmerica

    Dennis Prager recently posed the question, “In the last 100 years, which religion has been the most dynamic?” His answer was not Islam, as one might expect, but leftism, as Americans are now learning. The collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s embrace of capitalism have bizarrely led to the US moving to the left.

    Virtually all the tv shows, movies, networks young people have seen were produced with lefty points of view. Most public schools and especially universities are playthings of the left, as apparently are gov’t bureaucracies like the IRS. They’re the products of what someone called ‘indoctrination by osmosis.’

    • #44
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @DannyAlexander

    My #6 comment above represented basically “Here’s what I think about these statistics.”

    My comment now is “Here’s what I think we should do about these statistics.”

    Burn down non-hard-sciences faculties at institutions of “higher learning” throughout the US. 

    (Hoover Institution and Hillsdale University excepted of course!  Claremont status pending review?)

    It’s all been fatally compromised internally, there’s been an utter failure of mission, and to boot, all involved have had the mind-boggling gall to keep paying themselves on a skyrocketing basis while brazenly deflecting the blame (and what should be student/graduate ire) onto the conservative movement.

    Burn them all down, literally, and dare them to sue.

    • #45
  16. Profile Photo Contributor
    @jameslileks

    When I was young anti-Americanism was rampant. Watergate proved we were corrupt. Carter-era stagnation proved that capitalism was finished. Vietnam meant we were a murderous imperial power. European accommodation of the Soviets indicated a much more sensible, peaceable third way. The rise of punk music across the pond was a sign of the last death throes of Western Civ. The ascension of a madman warmonger as a president was just the cherry on the rotten sundae. It would all end in mushroom clouds. 

    We didn’t see any possible reason any of this would change. 

    • #46
  17. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Danny Alexander:

    But that’s precisely why the parallel attitudinal phenomenon in the US that Brooks describes is so profoundly perverse, indeed enraging:  Warts and all, **America** has been the force for good.

    WTF, you brats?! · 26 minutes ago

    Most advanced democratic countries have evolved to a point where the older generations are exploiting the younger ones on a massive scale.  It’s not as bad in the U.S. as it is in some European countries, but it’s still pretty bad.  People my age feel like serfs, and justifiable so.  It’s a lot harder to break into the middle class today then it was in your day.  And by “lot,” I mean “orders of magnitude.”

    Frankly, in our current economy success is a matter of luck.  It’s perfectly natural for young people to feel that way, that’s why it’s so important we implement the right economic reforms.

    • #47
  18. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @JosephStanko
    TeamAmerica: Most public schools and especially universities are playthings of the left

    Agreed, the liberal takeover of public education is key here.  American history is taught as a parade of horribles: settlers giving smallpox blankets to natives, slavery, the Trail of Tears, the underground railroad, the Robber Barons, the internment of Japanese during WWII, Jim Crow and segregation, colonialism in the Philippines, McCarthyism… if that’s all you know about American history, of course you’re going to be ashamed of our past rather than proud of it.

    • #48
  19. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @JosephStanko
    Joseph Eagar

    Frankly, in our current economy successisa matter of luck.  It’s perfectly natural for young people to feel that way, that’s why it’s so important we implement the right economic reforms.

    Economic success comes from 3 main factors:

    1. hard work
    2. luck
    3. connections, networking, knowing the right people

    I don’t think this is much different today than at any point in American history.

    I do think one thing that has changed is that young people in recent years have been told to “follow your dream” and “do what you love” and that that plus hard work and following the rules will lead to success.  Well, that’s a flat-out lie.  We can’t all be successful actors, astronauts, or novelists, someone has to do the less romantic jobs.

    • #49
  20. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin
    Mollie Hemingway

    No. It’s just that we used to be exceptional in our embrace of liberty. And now we’re not. · 19 minutes ago

    I don’t know what that means either.  Free markets?  Brits beat us to it, and did it better than us for most of our history.  Individual liberties?  The French took all our ideas and went screaming past us into a reductio ad absurdum and the guillotine (there, but for the wisdom of the founders, go we…).   The best construction of this trope that I’ve seen is that the post-Civil War U.S. has managed to balance very high levels of individual autonomy with comparatively high levels of social stability, all the while generating huge amounts of wealth.  But this doesn’t mean that we’re *more* liberty-loving than anyone else; as a matter of fact, the main gripe that philosophical leftism has with the U.S. is that we’re too conformist and unwilling to constantly expand the definition of “liberty.” I don’t know about you, but I’m incredibly glad that we haven’t, in the name of liberty, gone down the Nietzschean abyss.

    • #50
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin
    Freeven

    Try this. · 22 minutes ago

    Good presentation, good video.  Unfortunately there are a large number of historical errors (mostly pertaining to U.S. policy after WWII and the military/cultural legacy of previous world-empires).  Worse, I really couldn’t disagree more with the notion that being tremendously proud of our history, culture, and heritage is somehow more than just mere patriotism.  

    America has a huge place in the history of the world.  The legacy of the writings, ideas, and actions of the founders is hard to overstate.  The world is the way it is in large part because we have molded it so over the past century.  But what we are now has nothing to do with that, and the notion that we as a people are somehow elevated because of our descent from that glorious past can be really harmful.  We will be great if and only if we keep following the example of the founders.  All the hot air and exceptionalist rhetoric in the world won’t save us if we don’t.

    • #51
  22. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Freeven
    Taliesin

    Freeven

    Try this. · 22 minutes ago

    Good presentation, good video.  Unfortunately there are a large number of historical errors (mostly pertaining to U.S. policy after WWII and the military/cultural legacy of previous world-empires).  Worse, I really couldn’t disagree more with the notion that being tremendously proud of our history, culture, and heritage is somehow more than just mere patriotism.  

    America has a huge place in the history of the world.  The legacy of the writings, ideas, and actions of the founders is hard to overstate.  The world is the way it is in large part because we have molded it so over the past century.  But what we are now has nothing to do with that, and the notion that we as a people are somehow elevated because of our descent from that glorious past can be really harmful.  We will be great if and only if we keep following the example of the founders.  All the hot air and exceptionalist rhetoric in the world won’t save us if we don’t. · 12 minutes ago

    I think this is the point Whittle made at the end of the video.

    • #52
  23. Profile Photo Member
    @
    FightinInPhilly: Question for those who think we’re doomed- why are you spending time on Ricochet? Seriously- what could possibly be the point of a 200 word post if you honestly believed that? I’m genuinely curious. · 2 hours ago

    I have to somehow pass the time until our inevitable destruction.

    • #53
  24. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Mollie Hemingway

    Taliesin:

    No. It’s just that we used to be exceptional in our embrace of liberty. And now we’re not. ·

    Nowhere else in the world has civil rights like Americans enjoy. The complexity of the hearsay rule, the idea that the remedy for the police engaging in wrongful searches and such ought to be throwing out the evidence? America’s legal system is amongst the world’s most expensive because America is fanatical about the justice of its system.

    These rights include gun rights and speech rights that substantively protect Americans’ freedom as well as those procedural rights, and those substantive rights are no less rare.

    America pours more money than other places into politics, with that money paying for think tanks, studies, journalism, and (somewhat) informative advertising, with the result that not only are Americans better informed about American politics than Italians are about Italian politics, Italians are often better informed about American politics than they are about Italian politics, and Italian lawyers often know more about some aspects of American law than about Italian law. This replaces, in part, the more violent activism found elsewhere, where citizens limit each other’s freedom.

    • #54
  25. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MLH
    Taliesin: I’m not an American Exceptionalist, and truthfully I don’t understand why people like Mr. Robinson are upset about it.  Mostly I’m just confused by the concept.  By what standard are we measuring “greatness?”  . . . · 1 hour ago

    Try the “exception to the rule” that is our form of government. (Definiton 1. here     or this definition.)

    • #55
  26. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland

    Americans give to those in need in astonishing quantities, and carry the burden of maintaining unprecedented world peace, because they believe in freedom and prosperity not just for themselves, but for others, and are guided by their views into genuine action.

    Americans inhabit their history, which personalizes and enrichens their values. A Frenchman, Italian, Englishman, or Pole will be able to tell you the names of their country’s great leaders, but relatively few will be able to say “Napoleon fought for us, which is why we live in this particular way today” except in the sense that each countries great leaders generally succeeded in ensuring that their country remained or became free from foreigners.

    The man on the American street can identify Lincoln and the end slavery with his life today, and has a reasonable sense that the founders were linked with the Constitution, which provided us with the right to silence and such; there are problems with the details, but there remains a powerful narrative that most modern nations simply lack, and the lack of texture to values weakens those values.

    • #56
  27. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin
    Freeven

    I think this is the point Whittle made at the end of the video. · 8 minutes ago

    And to that extent I agree with him.  But that means we have to work at being great, and not just assert that we *are* exceptional, because we’re not.  We’re just like every other group of people out there, trying to live up to great and lofty ideals.  We just get to, as Newton said, “stand on the shoulders of giants.”

    • #57
  28. Profile Photo Member
    @AdamKoslin
    MLH

    Try the “exceptionto the rule” that is our form of government. (Definiton 1. here     or this definition.) · 4 minutes ago

    Sure, that might have been true in 1915, but not anymore.   Our government isn’t all that unique nowadays.  Our *history* is quite unique, and as a historical descriptor “American Exeptionalism” still has a lot of utility.  But for modern day politics and culture I just don’t see it.

    • #58
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @

    So David Brooks discovers Americans are undergoing a crisis of confidence. Brilliant! Blind Pig allow me to introduce Acorn. It’s not surprising that the guy who got all hot about the crease in Obama’s pants and thought “he’ll be a very good president” would glom on to Strain’s  moving voucher nonsense — ’cause everybody knows it’s better to be unemployed in Key West than Cleveland. (By the way, does Michael Strain get paid by the bad idea?)

    The puzzle here is why Peter would waste a nanosecond of the rest of his life reading this irremediable twerp, or any of the rouges gallery that comprises the NYT’s commentariat. 

    • #59
  30. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Freeven
    Taliesin

    Freeven

    I think this is the point Whittle made at the end of the video. · 8 minutes ago

    And to that extent I agree with him.  But that means we have to work at being great, and not just assert that we *are* exceptional, because we’re not.  We’re just like every other group of people out there, trying to live up to great and lofty ideals.  We just get to, as Newton said, “stand on the shoulders of giants.” · 38 minutes ago

    I’m confident that Whittle agrees, as do I. It is our system, gifted to us by the Founders, that distinguishes America and has allowed us to be exceptional. That system is now hardly recognizable, as suggested in the original post, and echoed by you, me, and other posters.

    I linked to Whittle’s video not to disagree with you, but because you professed to being “confused by the concept” of American Exceptionalism. Based on your subsequent comments, I don’t think you are.

    • #60
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.