Essay №4: “A City Upon a Hill…”

A Note on American Exceptionalism


“We shall be as a city upon hill…”
 — Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts.

A proverbial phrase that has echoed not in infamy but rather in spirit. A blinded spirit whose weight is measured in heart, in which balance is paramount and a plurality of feathers can only be corrected by the blade of a double edged sword. Identity can influence our interests that influence our actions. It is a circular diagram that is recursive, not transitive. A half-truth in the half-light has given birth to the idea of “America First.” It has given birth to the idea that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It has given birth to the idea that we are the “home of the brave”, “Defender of Democracy”, “Leader of the free world,” and an arrogant electorate that believes that they are invincible to any absolute wrong doing or criticism.

A seed born in a pot too large for the role it wished to play. A sprout too short for the risky winds it wished to face. An exodus of almighty stamina. Yet, on a global stage, decided to over-confidently perform to an audience who saw the playwright for what she was made up of… blissful and impassioned ignorance. Yet she was not always like this, she was born out of humble beginnings. Her words on paper started as only words; it was the confidence that radiated throughout the lines that brought her from a playwright who wrote for back ally performances to the world stage where she proudly stated, “We The People.”

This tragically divine comedy has no ending. She has one beginning; yet no future of certainty coursing through the parchment in which her play is printed on. American exceptionalism has approached a dangerous side on the spectrum in which the values we are covenanted to hold fundamental to our identity are being challenged by American ignorance. I believe that the playwright will not merely endure: I believe that she will prevail. The American voice must not be the record of ignorant exceptionalism. We are a city upon a hill, built upon a foundation of extremely humble beginnings. The voice of the United States of America sits upon susceptible pillars that hold certain truths to be self-evident. We are not “America First”… we are simply America.

Yet, American exceptionalism courses through the veins of this note, giving it life and a heartbeat of its own. A heartbeat that rose and fell with the new colossus of a provocation of pride and prejudice. The trap of only preaching the first part of an extended life. The trap of only recognizing the proverbial clause of Governor John Winthrop’s quote, “We shall be a city upon a hill…” For the Governor did not intend to be shortsighted by the plight of our exceptionalism; an idea that only allows us Americans to lay bare the beginning of the quote. For the ‘lamp is being lifted beside the golden door’, allowing our playwright to prevail:

“We shall be a city upon a hill…the eyes of all people are upon us.” 
-Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts

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