The American Trinity: Truth, Hypocrisy, and Spinning History
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
American exceptionalism lies in America’s values, which are quite different from those of Europe or any other country. According to the Youtube presentation by Dennis Prager, ( http://prageru.com/?p=3 ), these values consist of the “American Trinity” printed on the American Lincoln penny.
E Pluribus Unum,
In God We Trust, and
These contrast with the French “liberty, equality, fraternity,” whereby liberty comes from man, not from God, and equality is in result not in opportunity, which means that liberty means to conform to a secular ideology that can easily turn into totalitarianism.
What Prager misses is that the paradigmatic value for all the others is justice, the first of the five purposes of America in the Declaration of Independence, which is both cause and result of the trinity on the Lincoln Penny.
Chris Dorf represents a growing school of thought that the whole concept of the American Trinity or of any “American” values is an absurd effort to spin history. He writes, “American exceptionalism is based on delusions regarding reality. The Native Americans extended open hands to White Europeans, and the Europeans like Jefferson and others attempted genocide because a ‘pretend’ god (Jefferson’s Bible) took the land of plenty from the red man and gave it to the white man. The Native Man’s culture was wiped off this earth. Truly an act of God!”
Quoting from the Christian Bible he reminds us of the responsibility to combine faith and works:
12 So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by a law of liberty.
13 For judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment.
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.
18 Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith.
19 Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect;
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.
24 Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.
25 And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.
These Christian teachings about faith and good works are universal and are at the root of every world religion. They are not downgraded by the fact that Christians have excelled in history perhaps more than any other religious people by failing to practice these teachings and even by deliberately distorting them in order to justify their sins.
America and Pakistan are the only countries in the world that were founded with a mission to be a model of virtue, yet they both have histories that would justify calling them morally failed states. They also have solid histories of valiant efforts to resurrect and maintain the founding values. The fact that these efforts on balance have failed does not undermine the exceptionalism of the founding paradigm, nor does the fact that even most of America’s founders, like Thomas Jefferson, were at best cowards and at worst hypocrites in their own lives.
Philosophers argue whether individual responsibility is different from group or community responsibility. A community’s observance of its responsibilities necessarily is the sum of its parts and therefore not the same as that of any part. An individual’s responsibilities are much higher, which is why we should be compassionate in judging individuals for failing in their own lives but ruthlessly judgmental in judging community leaders. In my view, the political leaders, especially in the Republican Party, who commit adultery should be banned from human society or at least shunned, because they have volunteered to be public models in both their public and private lives and must be judged on this basis.
One could say the same thing about entire communities that are founded as models of virtue, in which case America should be condemned more than any other country simply because it undertook a much higher mission. This, however, in no way undermines the value of its mission or the relevance of its founding principles both for Americans and for everyone else in the world.
Our task as Americans is to perfect not only ourselves but the institutions of society that themselves are defective, including the entire system of money, banking, credit, taxation, inheritance, and corporate law, in order to facilitate the practice of the principles that we like to say is the American way. It is self-defeating to say that these principles are worthless merely because in practice they are only partially observed.
In advising young people, I always make the distinction between idealism and pragmatism. Pursuing both is the greatest challenge, because most idealists quit in disgust and leave the political arena to the worst of the worst. In my day, 90% of the White House interns after one year’s exposure left not only the Republican Party but all political interests for the rest of their lives. Almost 100% of the innocent Americans recruited by the Saudis to study in Saudi Arabia not only left Islam as a religion within two years but rejected all religion, which is why the Saudis prefer to indoctrinate American converts not in Saudi Arabia but in America where the hypocrisy is not so glaring.
The most difficult challenge in life for spiritually and morally sensitive people is to maintain skepticism about even the possibility of improving the world without becoming cynical about their responsibility to make the effort even in their own environs. The final judgment is not on the result but on their commitment to seek truth and to practice it in the pursuit of peace, prosperity, and freedom only through compassionate justice for all.