Conservatives do not usually cite Mother Jones as a go-to source for political commentary.
But the folks at Mother Jones have unearthed a hilarious quote from Donald Trump. The man who brands himself as the man to “Make America Great Again” by winning his battle against political correctness, doesn’t much care for the concept of American exceptionalism (emphasis mine):
I don’t like the term. I’ll be honest with you… I don’t think it’s a very nice term. We’re exceptional; you’re not. First of all, Germany is eating our lunch. So they say, ‘Why are you exceptional? We’re doing a lot better than you.’ I never liked the term… Because we’re dealing—First of all, I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them. We’ve given them so much. On top of taking it back, I don’t want to say, ‘We’re exceptional. We’re more exceptional.’ Because essentially we’re saying we’re more outstanding than you. ‘By the way, you’ve been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we’re more exceptional than you.’ … Because I think you’re insulting the world… if you’re German, or you’re from Japan, or you’re from China, you don’t want to have people saying that. I never liked the expression. … I don’t think we should say it. We may have a chance to say it in the not-too-distant future. But even the, I wouldn’t say it because when I take back the jobs, and when I take back all that money and we get all our stuff, I’m not going to rub it in. Let’s not rub it in…”
Trump’s comments are in line with his policy comments about trade and foreign policy. According to Trump, America is not an exceptional place because politicians have sold our country to benefit China, Japan and Mexico. America is not exceptional because various European and Asian countries are ripping us off. Trump’s line of thinking is far more nationalist than conservative.
Nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing.
Patriotism is defined as “Devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country.” Believers in American exceptionalism focus on defending the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other American ideals.
Nationalism, on the other hand, is “the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations,” Therefore, for a nationalist like Donald Trump, Japan and Mexico are not trade partners, but rather competitors that harm Americans.
A true patriot and believer in American exceptionalism will say that what makes America great is our ideas, spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and upheld by our love of liberty and individualism. A nationalist will tell you that to make America great by imposing trade barriers on certain countries and threatening to abandon key allies in key regions of the world. Because we must win again.
What made America great in the first place was not protectionist trade policies. The Constitution was set up in a large part for the exact opposite.
If our trade policy with China renders us unexceptional, does it therefore make China exceptional? China is a one-party police state that builds islands in waters that do not belong to them and then claims the entire sea as their own. Trump has spoken positively of the Chinese Communist Party for their “strength” in dealing with the Tiananmen Square protests.
To “Make America Great Again” the next president needs to reverse Obama’s record of legislating via executive order (among other things), not start a trade war with Mexico.