Letter: Thomas Black, Leesburg

Editor: In our struggle for a more perfect union, there will never be a season suitable for the sunshine patriot. The valiant efforts of “liberty and justice for all” are too worthy of our best efforts, and will therefore disallow us to shrink from our righteous pursuit despite exhausted frustration, continuous shortcomings, or worst of all—indifference. Yet, in the wake of recent challenges, I hope to invoke a few reputable principles which will allow us to exit these events with greater strength and unity. 

American exceptionalism is often misunderstood. Many would identify our military prowess as evidence of exceptionalism, while others might laud our entitlement and benefits system (IE: 75% of federal budget earmarked for human services [2017, Pew Research Center]), or the benevolence we show to citizens and non-citizens alike through heroic humanitarian efforts.  However, American exceptionalism is not rightly identified by our actions.  Contrarily, our actions are a reflection of our national understanding, and the personification of our values. It is, for this reason, I am troubled by certain responses to current events.  

American exceptionalism is established by our unabated dedication to justice, as fundamentally expressed through individual liberty. Instances involving injustice and a failure by the government to secure the blessings of liberty for all citizens are antithetical to America and must be reported, protested, and petitioned for change. However, when we entertain suggestions of a need to obliterate the foundations of our union, we remove the bedrock which built America and allowed us to progressively become the most free and diverse society in all history. Although I recognize the imperfections of our nation, and eagerly desire injustices to be corrected with greater speed and efficacy, our nation’s foundation should always breed optimism for our future.

Many readers may be tempted to cynicism by the notion of American exceptionalism; however, I do not believe this is a belief derived from a Pollyanna perspective. I, too, am deeply bothered by our initial understanding of liberty that still permitted slavery. I cannot fathom how Union soldiers of African descent must have felt upon learning they would receive only a fraction of the pay their comrades received. Nonetheless, I celebrate Dr. King’s patriotism and delight in his words: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir … But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

Therefore, I ask all dissatisfied citizens considering fundamental change: if our foundation is shaken, and freedom fails here, to whom will you appeal for justice? What governing philosophy recognizes and protects individual freedom with greater tenacity? America stands alone—exceptional—as the greatest experiment of hope and promise to the world. An experiment suggesting liberty will prevail, not in spite of our diversity, but because of it. 

Thomas Black, Leesburg

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