Is the United States an exceptional country that has played a uniquely good role in history? Or is it a typical country, perhaps even a uniquely bad one considering the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow? On this, the Left and Right do not agree.
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The Left and the Right view America and its history very differently. Conservatives view America as President Abraham Lincoln viewed it — as the “Last Best Hope of Earth.” While acknowledging America’s flaws, conservatives regard America as the best society ever created — giving more people of more backgrounds more freedom, more opportunity, and more affluence than any other society — and doing more good for more people in other countries than any society in history.
The Left, on the other hand, sees America as having been, and continuing to be, a very flawed country, morally no better than many, and morally inferior to many. The Left’s view is that America was founded by rich white males who were intent on protecting their race, their wealth, and in many cases, their slaves. America was and remains sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, and bigoted; a country of unacceptable material inequality, where the superrich and big corporations have far too much power and influence. The further left one goes, the more negative the assessment of America.
Here’s a telling example.
On my radio show, I once dialogued with Howard Zinn, arguably the most influential American historian of the second half of the twentieth century. Here is one part of our dialogue: Professor Zinn said: “If people knew history, they would scoff at…the idea that the United States is a force for the betterment of humanity.” When I said that America has done more good for humanity than any other country, Professor Zinn responded: America has “probably [done] more bad than good.”
For the Left, the moral flaws in American history are enormous, but all the unique good America has done both in America and abroad is minimized or ignored. Take the example of slavery. This terrible institution is the most widely cited “proof” of American evil. The problem with that judgment, however, is that every civilization in world history, even including African societies, practiced slavery — often on a far larger scale than America did.
But there are two other questions about slavery that must be asked in order to make a moral judgment about America: The first is: “Which societies were the first to abolish slavery?” Since all societies had slavery, that is a far more important question to ask than who had slaves. It turns out that all the societies that first abolished slavery were rooted in the Jewish and Christian Bibles and among them was the United States.
The second question that needs to be answered is this: Was America morally better than other societies in just about every other regard? And the answer is overwhelmingly yes.
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