AMERICAN NATIONALISM, A POLITICAL CREED ?
So argues Minxin Pei. A key excerpt from the Foreign Policy article
differentiating American nationalism from darker, more ethnocentric versions abroad:
"First, American nationalism is based on political ideals, not those of cultural or ethnic superiority. That conception is entirely fitting for a society that still sees itself as a cultural and ethnic melting pot. As President George W. Bush said in his Fourth of July speech last year: “There is no American race; there’s only an American creed.” And in American eyes, the superiority of that creed is self-evident. American political institutions and ideals, coupled with the practical achievements attributed to them, have firmly convinced Americans that their values ought to be universal. Conversely, when Americans are threatened, they see attacks on them as primarily attacks on their values. Consider how American elites and the public interpreted the September 11 terrorist attacks. Most readily embraced the notion that the attacks embodied an assault on U.S. democratic freedoms and institutions
Second, American nationalism is triumphant rather than aggrieved. In most societies, nationalism is fueled by past grievances caused by external powers. Countries once subjected to colonial rule, such as India and Egypt, are among the most nationalistic societies. But American nationalism is the polar opposite of such aggrieved nationalism. American nationalism derives its meaning from victories in peace and war since the country’s founding. Triumphant nationalists celebrate the positive and have little empathy for the whining of aggrieved nationalists whose formative experience consisted of a succession of national humiliations and defeats.
Finally, American nationalism is forward looking, while nationalism in most other countries is the reverse. Those who believe in the superiority of American values and institutions do not dwell on their historical glories (though such glories constitute the core of American national identity). Instead, they look forward to even better times ahead, not just at home but also abroad. This dynamism imbues American nationalism with a missionary spirit and a short collective memory. Unavoidably, such forward-looking and universalistic perspectives clash with the backward-looking and particularistic perspectives of ethno-nationalism in other countries. Haunted by memories of Western military invasions since the time of the Crusades, the Middle East cannot help but look with suspicion upon U.S. plans to “liberate” the Iraqi people. In the case of China, U.S. support for Taiwan, which the Chinese government and people alike regard as a breakaway province, is the most contentious issue in bilateral relations. The loss of Taiwan—whether to the Japanese in 1895 or to the nationalists in 1949—has long symbolized national weakness and humiliation."
After that analysis the article moves on to fairly pedestrian observations regarding American insularity and the general disinterest in foreign travel or cultures. Pei's piece brought to mind a fairly well-known Foreign Affairs article
on the characteristics of Liberal Nationalism
by Michael Lind, years back that stirred controversy ( unfortunately, you must pony up $ 5.95 to read the whole thing or have access to a research library but the excerpt gives the flavor at least).