America is exceptional. For those who may not believe so or may have forgotten, it is the job of the rest of us to show them the way. In a focus group of one, a member of generation Z admitted to not considering America particularly exceptional. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering the time in which my daughter has grown up and the context of when we were having this conversation.
This conversation took place on the very same day there was an attack on the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which resulted in her husband’s hospitalization. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hails from Pelosi’s state of California, was remarkably slow to condemn the attack.
During the same week that a 19-year-old gunman — who failed an FBI background check but still obtained a gun — entered a St. Louis high school with an assault rifle and 600 rounds of ammunition, killing a high school student and a beloved teacher.
During a month that a Democratic member of Congress from St. Louis signed a letter requesting that President Joe Biden negotiate with war criminal Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine and a local elementary school had been forced to close after an independent report showed excessive levels of radioactivity were discovered on the school campus.
In a year when hundreds of election deniers across the country were competing in Tuesday’s election, McCarthy said he may likely curtail aid to Ukraine if Republicans took control of the House. American women lost a right that they have had for nearly 50 years. A former president was found to have classified documents in his Florida residence. And Missouri began requiring a photo ID in order to vote.
In the middle of a decade when selfishness exploded during a global pandemic, in which vaccine misinformation and mask wars ran rampant, for the first time in American history there was no peaceful transfer of power. And a gallows was erected in front of the U.S. Capitol while rioters hunted for the vice president while chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
America might not have been acting exceptional lately.
But I fundamentally believe in a different kind of American exceptionalism. All of us have a responsibility to restore this core value and to highlight it for younger generations. Here’s what I reminded my daughter:
Despite being brutally attacked with a hammer, Paul Pelosi, husband of Nancy Pelosi, was able to call 911. Law enforcement responded swiftly. Pelosi was taken to a hospital where he had emergent neurosurgery to repair a skull fracture from a hammer attack. Even though House GOP members were slow to condemn and some even made jokes about the attack, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately condemned the attack.
Interim St. Louis police Chief Michael Sack described the police officers who responded to Central Visual and Performing Arts and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience within four minutes after receiving the call for an active shooter: “They did an outstanding job. I don’t know how they could have done better.” The officers confronted the shooter eight minutes after they arrived. And police reported “suspect down” two minutes later, saving countless lives.
Progressive Democrats withdrew their letter calling for more diplomatic efforts with Russia. Biden remains committed to the cause of defending democracy here and abroad, specifically in Ukraine. As of right now, most members of Congress still support funding Ukraine’s war effort.
Local, state and national elected officials have committed to remediation of the radioactive waste found at Jana Elementary in Florissant, calling for a declaration of a federal emergency.
Under Operation Warp Speed, coronavirus vaccines were developed in record time, and millions of doses were dispensed less than a year after the pandemic landed on our shores. Millions of health care heroes kept our medical centers open despite the risk to their health and the health of their loved ones. Vaccines that target cancer could be available by 2030, according to the husband-and-wife team behind one of the most successful coronavirus vaccines.
Countless volunteers got out the vote on Tuesday in order to defeat election deniers. Thousands of other remarkable Americans worked as poll workers during the height of the pandemic in 2020, making that election the most secure election in our lifetime.
Because of brave law enforcers at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, members of Congress and the vice president were kept safe. The electoral votes were certified, and Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
All parents have had the experience when their usually good child makes a series of mistakes. But a string of bad behavior doesn’t change the inherent goodness of the child. This is how I approach our American experiment. America may be stumbling now, but we remain special, all because of exceptional people who live here.
Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.