American exceptionalism has been dealt a body-blow. I want to suggest, however, that the variant of exceptionalism that was upset by the Bush era was only a vertical model, and that a horizontal image has not only survived, but is flourishing—perhaps, in fact, finding ultimate expression in the personage of Barack Obama as the official representation of the body politic. Traditionally, there have been two distinct, coexistent images of American exceptionalism—one vertical, and one horizontal. The vertical model envisions America as the pinnacle of a global hierarchy, the privileged “city upon a hill” over an otherwise flat or downward-sloping world. The horizontal model pictures America as being, instead, a consummation, the “melting pot” where the peoples of the world meet, intermingle, and are ennobled by virtue of constituting collective humanity within morally important national borders. In the first picture, America is separate from the world of nations, and in the second, America has subsumed the world of peoples. [...]Read the rest of Toward a universalist exceptionalism.
Robyn S. Schroeder
Robyn S. Schroeder has practiced historical interpretation and public education at a variety of house museums and public sites, including the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois, and the Glessner House Museum in Chicago. She is currently a doctoral student in American Civilization at Brown University. Her research interests constellate around nationalism, civil religion, and American historical memory of the 20th century.