Hillary Clinton is making a case for American exceptionalism. “The United States is an exceptional nation,” she said on Wednesday at the American Legion’s national convention in Cincinnati. “It’s not just that we have the greatest military, or that our economy is larger than any on Earth, it’s also the strength of our values.” Clinton added: “Our power comes with a responsibility to lead.”
The Democratic presidential nominee believes talking up her commitment to American engagement abroad will help her secure the White House. Focusing on foreign policy allows Clinton to showcase her experience as a former secretary of state and emphasize how high the stakes are in the election. Elect Trump, her campaign argues, and America hands over its nuclear codes to a man with poor judgement and a history of erratic behavior. Yet what is most remarkable about Clinton’s embrace of American exceptionalism is how it highlights the inverted politics of foreign policy in the 2016 presidential race.
Republicans and Democrats have championed American exceptionalism—the concept that the United States is uniquely qualified to act as a world leader. But the GOP has more forcefully made that case, often framed as a moral imperative, in recent years. The 2012 Republican Party platform outlined a commitment to “American exceptionalism,” defining it as “the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history.” Now, however, Clinton is going out of her way to embrace the idea of American exceptionalism, while Trump has disavowed it. “I don’t like the term, I’ll be honest with you,” Trump once said. “I don’t think it’s a very nice term, we’re exceptional, you’re not … I never liked the term.”