The last benchmark for the Pew survey was 2002. Can you think of anything that’s happened since then to make Americans a little less confident? A costly war in Iraq initiated on false premises. A housing bubble and then a financial crash at home. The emergence of China as competitor and creditor.
Events of this past decade have taken some of the shine off “American exceptionalism.” The phrase has become utterly overloaded: the right uses it to justify its agenda, the left uses it to attack the right’s hubris, the right uses it to attack the left’s defeatism. And on and on.
What’s unfortunate is that there actually is something real, worthy and salvageable in the idea of American exceptionalism. But it has little to do with being dogmatically individualistic or having a much lower government-spending-to-GDP ratio than Europe has. It has to do with our openness to new people and ideas, and the diversity of cultures that immigrants carry in our country. For all its troubles, the U.S. remains the only country that Europeans, Asians, Africans, Latin Americans and Australians want to move to in great numbers. As they all become Americans, America becomes just a little more like all of them, creating hybrid attitudes and styles that shape the planet’s future.