Do We Need A New American Century?

I tuned in to last night’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention to catch the last third of Joe Biden’s speech.  There’s definitely something Truman-y about that way that man talks (and looks).  Oratorically and politically speaking, he had an effective line about “downsizing the American dream” that both attacked potential Republican cuts and the business practices of Mitt Romney all at once.

All of this, of course, to set up the main address by President Obama.  Like the Republicans before him, Obama painted a stark picture of the choice facing Americans in this election.  I won’t go into it much here.  Suffice it to say that partisans on both sides agree that the course of the nation may be altered depending on who wins this election.  The rhetoric may be a bit overblown, but no one can deny that the two candidates have some widely disparate visions.  Hopefully both of them (and, despite the President’s high-minded words last night, I do mean both candidates) can focus on theses issues and stark differences and put the silly matters of politics behind.

What they don’t publicly disagree on, I think, is the desire to see America prosper and take leadership in our world as we have for some time now.  To make, in the words of DNC keynote speaker Julian Castro, “the 21st century another American century.” Both Romney and Obama have spoken directly to this idea as well.

A desire to see American grow and take leadership makes sense, considering our potential and the great number of responsibilities we currently have.  Yet at the same time, I wonder if all of this talk about American exceptionalism (i.e. that America is different and somehow better than the rest of the world) is rather a relic of the past.  I’d ask whether or not the 21st century needs to be an American century.  Whether that kind of question is outdated and anachronistic in our increasingly interdependent, cosmopolitan, and international world.

I don’t mean to sound anti-American or Pollyanna-ish, but I wonder if it is possible to imagine a world where we are not in charge of everything…and that’s OK.  After all, we’ve only been at the top of the heap for about 70 years or so, meaning that a majority of our American story is about being one power (and sometimes a very slight one) amongst many.  The world survived before we ran things.  Might it survive if we stopped running everything?  Might it survive if the 21st century was not ours?

That, of course, is a far cry from saying that we just stop trying or abrogate our duties.  With Governor Romney and President Obama I too want to see American prosper.  I’m just not sure this next century needs to be “American” for us to feel that we have once again arrived.
Next week: No more politics!  A return to topics of history and ministry.


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