How Trump Is Making Us Rethink American Exceptionalism

This article is the second in a series on how President Donald Trump changed history—reviving historical debates that have simmered on low heat for years, and altering how historians think about them. See the first in the series here.

Americans have always thought their country was exceptional. They thought it even as early as 1630, when John Winthrop delivered a now-famous sermon in which he called the Puritan community a “city on a hill”—long before there even was an American country.

In more recent years, the idea of American exceptionalism has become tainted by politics—a rhetorical cudgel that politicians, particularly conservatives, wield to bludgeon their opponents. During President Barack Obama’s tenure, Republican leaders expressed concern that, in Newt Gingrich’s words, there was “a determined group of radicals in the United States who outright oppose American Exceptionalism.

” Obama ultimately felt compelled to correct the record. On July 4, 2012, he paid tribute to a group of newly naturalized citizens, celebrating their diversity and service to country as “one of the reasons that America is exceptional.”

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