What have we learned from the 2016 election cycle? It’s that the visage of American exceptionalism is weaker than perhaps ever before. No, not the American exceptionalism that you might be thinking,, a quasi-dog whistle term to ethno-nationalists. American exceptionalism, as I refer to it, describes a specific perception of the American ethos, spoken about at the sixth annual William F. Buckley Jr. Program Seminar at Yale University by conservative pundit Bill Kristol. Kristol defined the term by invoking the late political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset. Lipset dictated that the American idea “can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez faire.”

This precursor illuminates his ultimate definition of the term American exceptionalism, namely that “the United States is the only industrialized country which does not have a significant socialist movement or Labor party,” and likewise has no place for “Tories” or any manifestation of the ethno-nationalist European right. America has historically “squeezed out” both socialism and rightist populism, in favor of center-left Keynesianism and constitutional conservatism, revealing an inimitable constraint in the American character to hold fast to what Lipset calls “the most classically liberal polity in the developed world.” The primary and electoral sequence revealed that the unique character is significantly debilitated.

More so, the election cycle saw both a puerile surge to socialism, nominally mitigated by the modifier “democratic” and a major political party giving platform to the Alt-Right, an ethno-nationalist movement whose surrogates have vocally decried traditional American conservatism. These two strains of political philosophy were unanimously excluded from the American history of major popular backing, but America now looks down the barrel of a generation enamored with the nanny state and a reactionary movement comprised of insidious ethno-populists. Our country’s values of individual liberty, freedom and an enterprising spirit are refined by Keynesian liberals and the constitutional conservatives. If one thing can unite us now that the election has come to a close, it ought to be the quest of keeping American exceptionalism and resisting the allure of socialism and the Alt-Right.

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