The term “exceptional” often becomes a dirty word when paired with a nation’s claim to it. It becomes an obscenity when the nation is the United States. A glimpse at the clock on the wall, however, suggests that it’s about a quarter past “enough is enough.” America is exceptional. Every person, every nation, is.

Still, exceptionalism, in the case of the United States is not merely a matter of historical record. It remains hugely relevant. Fortunately, other nations have gotten on a track built, tested, and largely maintained by the United States. As with so much that undergirds our existence and its quality, this fact tends to be taken for granted. Whatever the reasons, the result is a disposition of ingratitude. And, in a citizenry, ingratitude can be a symptom of a life-threatening condition.

Barring some sinister manipulation of the vote, the American people have the power to act either as America’s greatest enemy—or the reinvigorated stewards of its freedom. Freedom is not an ideology. In many ways it is the antithesis of it. It is the exercise of that which is universal and self-evident, whose provenance is not temporal, but transcendent. It is not permitted; it is endowed. To miss this truth—and the difference it makes—is to enable the erosion of freedom’s foundation we have seen accelerate so dramatically in recent decades. Ideology is the solvent of this erosion. It has challenged boundaries with varying degrees of success, and intends to cross lines so critical that doing so would alter the nature of the republic as basically as altering the DNA of an individual.

In our present moment, prosecution of that agenda proceeds in the conviction that the people have become so unfamiliar with their history, so easily distracted, and so eagerly tranquilized by the trivial, that they won’t notice—or see it as such.

In the final analysis, ideology is always and everywhere reducible to self-reference. Being closed to the transcendent, it atomizes, divides, and is at intrinsic odds with the spirit of E Pluribus Unum, the motto discerned in 1776 for the Great Seal of the United States.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness —the order is significant. They are the self-evident, divinely endowed pillars of freedom. And America’s greatness will ever stand in direct proportion to its incarnate gratitude for them.

Articles by Tim Kelleher

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