In his inaugural speech, President Biden said his “whole soul” was in the cause of “Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation.”
He also recognized that Americans have serious disagreements. Everyone knows that our country is deeply divided politically.
I know from his time in the Senate that President Biden understands that people of good will can have honest disagreements about policy.
So, he knows that unity does not mean dropping deeply held beliefs and accepting his policy agenda.
As he said, “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war” and “Disagreement must not lead to disunion.”
Real unity requires rediscovering what binds us together as Americans even when we strongly disagree politically.
As I have often said, our nation is unique in human history in that it was founded not on the basis of a common ethnic identity or loyalty to a monarch, but on certain enduring principles.
Those principles are best articulated in the simple but eloquent words of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It is a common commitment to this ideal that has bound us together as Americans from the beginning.
Our patriot-forefathers concluded that these principles were worth fighting for and took up arms in an improbable quest to defeat the largest and best-trained military at the time.
This included many black patriots who fought for American independence – a unifying fact that I believe deserves a monument on the national mall – something I have worked toward for years.
As Margaret Thatcher once observed, “Americans and Europeans alike sometimes forget how unique is the United States of America. No other nation has been created so swiftly and successfully. No other nation has been built upon an idea – the idea of liberty. No other nation has so successfully combined people of different races and nations within a single culture.
Both the founding fathers of the United States and successive waves of immigrants to your country were determined to create a new identity. Whether in flight from persecution or from poverty, the huddled masses have, with few exceptions, welcomed American values, the American way of life and American opportunities. And America herself has bound them to her with powerful bonds of patriotism and pride. The European nations are not and can never be like this. They are the product of history and not of philosophy.”
This quote from a British leader is one of the best summaries of American Exceptionalism.
The term “American Exceptionalism” is often misunderstood, perhaps due to a quirk of the English language.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives three definitions of “exceptional”:
- forming an exception: rare an exceptional number of rainy days
- better than average: superior exceptional skill
- deviating from the norm: such as
- having above or below average intelligence
- physically disabled
Many people both here and abroad assume that those who talk about American Exceptionalism are just using the second definition and simply asserting that the United States is better than every other country.
This is wrong.
American Exceptionalism is an assertion of the plain fact that America’s foundation is very different from that of most other nations.
However, our foundation is increasingly under attack from both the right and the left.
Both the 1619 Project and white nationalists assert that America’s founding principles are a lie and that the United States was founded along ethnic lines.
This was the position taken by John C. Calhoun when he articulated an alternative to the founding principles intended to justify maintaining slavery in perpetuity.
Fortunately, Abraham Lincoln, who revered the Declaration of Independence, prevailed.
The notion that our founding principles are a lie isn’t just bad history, it breaks the bond that unites Americans of all backgrounds.
The 1776 Commission was established specifically to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.”
The introduction to The 1776 Report states that “a rediscovery of our shared identity rooted in our founding principles is the path to a renewed American unity and a confident American future.”
I could not agree more.
That is why I was disappointed to see President Biden terminate this commission the same day he took office after making his call for unity.
What specifically in the document does President Biden disagree with?
Yes, the report is critical of far-left efforts to denigrate our founding principles, but it is also an important corrective to the alt-right effort to import European-style ethno-nationalism, which is deeply un-American in every sense.
The 1776 Report calls for “a restoration of American education, which can only be grounded on a history of those principles that is ‘accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling.’”
By contrast, California has proposed an “ethnic studies” curriculum that is rooted in the fundamentally divisive tenants of critical race theory, with its focus on separating groups of Americans into different degrees of oppressor and oppressed.
Interestingly, despite the California curriculum’s focus on victims of prejudice, discussion of anti-Semitism is omitted in favor of criticisms of Israel.
This curriculum also totally skips over the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Remember his dream?
“It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Now that is unifying.
I encourage all Americans to read The 1776 Report for yourself.
See if you don’t agree with the central message that shared attachment to our timeless founding principles is what binds us together as a nation.
It is no longer available on the main White House website, but can still be found on the Trump administration’s archived website.
It is also available on the Hillsdale College website at https://info.hillsdale.edu/1776-commission.