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American Exceptionalism in the Age of Trump

As the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China are condemned to a relationship that must combine competition and cooperation. For the US, exceptionalism now includes working with the Chinese to help produce global public goods, while also defending values such as human rights.

CAMBRIDGE – In my recent study of 14 presidents since 1945, Do Morals Matter, I found that Americans want a moral foreign policy, but have been torn over what that means. Americans often see their country as exceptional because we define our identity not by ethnicity, but rather by ideas about a liberal vision of a society and way of life based on political, economic, and cultural freedom. President Donald Trump’s administration has departed from that tradition.

Of course, American exceptionalism faced contradictions from the start. Despite the founders’ liberal rhetoric, the original sin of slavery was written into the US Constitution in a compromise that allowed northern and southern states to unite.

And Americans have always differed over how to express liberal values in foreign policy. American exceptionalism was sometimes an excuse for ignoring international law, invading other countries, and imposing governments on their people.

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