American exceptionalism in a time of American malaise

Statue of Liberty

Though a Frenchman was the first person to describe America as "exceptional" and a Soviet, Joseph Stalin, inadvertently helped popularise the phrase "American exceptionalism" - he called it a "heresy" - the notion the United States is not just unique but superior has long been an article of national faith.

Writing in Democracy in America, which set out to explain why the American Revolution had succeeded while the French Revolution had failed, Alexis de Tocqueville observed Americans were "quite exceptional", by which he meant different rather than better.

Over the centuries, however, the idea has taken hold here that America is liberty's staunchest defender, democracy's greatest exemplar and home to the usually brave - a country like no other.

That America has emerged as the leader of the free world is not regarded as some cosmic fluke.

Its global role and mission, a responsibility to spread American values around the world, was divinely sanctified and historically preordained, thanks to the genius of its founding fathers.

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Does America need to change how it elects its presidents?

Audience member Robin Roy reacts as Donald Trump greets her at a campaign rally in Lowell, 4 January 2016 Image copyright Reuters

Is there a greater democratic show on earth than the American presidential election?

Indian polls, where elephants ferry electronic voting machines into the foothills of the Himalayas and pyrotechnics explode at the moment of victory, are doubtless more picturesque.

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What are 'New York values'?

New York sign Image copyright iStock

Perhaps we should call it the Frank Sinatra doctrine - the idea, enunciated nightly in karaoke bars the world over, that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. But is that true of presidential politics?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz clearly believes he is on to something in citing Donald Trump's "New York values" as a potential disqualifier for the Republican presidential nomination.

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US set for year of fear

John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kennedy, Reagan and Obama all won the White House on expressions of hope... but also outpourings of fear

The romanticised view of US presidential elections is that they present quadrennial opportunities for national renewal; that they are expressions of hope and optimism that reflect this country's founding belief in its inexorable advancement and improvement.

Peered at through rose-coloured spectacles, they become the democratic flowering of American exceptionalism.

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Why is it all going wrong for Jeb Bush?

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jeb Bush is bidding to become the third member of his family to become president

One of my more memorable moments on the campaign trail so far came after the Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, when I found myself chasing Jeb Bush down a corridor, attempting to lasso him with a boom mike - a contraption which looks like a fishing rod, with a rodent-like furry microphone attached to the end.

Bush was smarting from a lamentable debate performance, during which his attempt to ambush his one-time protege Marco Rubio with an attack on the Senator's absenteeism from Capitol Hill had boomeranged horribly.

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A Republican party split in two

In this September 16, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential hopefuls Ben Carson and Donald Trump participate in the Republican Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Image copyright Getty Images

For the chieftains of the Republican Party, Campaign 2016 has hardly gone to script.

A loud-mouthed billionaire encouraged by his poll numbers to believe he can insult his way to the White House has up until this week dominated the battle for its presidential nomination.

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UN: Seventy years of changing the world

Media captionNick Bryant explains what the UN General Assembly is - and why it matters

"The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell."

So often repeated are the words of the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, the organisation's most beloved secretary general, they have come to serve as a mission statement of sorts.

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Donald Trump: The enduring appeal

Donald Trump Image copyright Getty Images

Like the bell sounding last orders at the end of an uproarious night in the pub, Labor Day is often taken as the signal that the silliness of summertime is over, and the serious work of September should begin in earnest. For Donald Trump, however, summer never ends.

There he is still, wearing his famed red baseball cap, headgear that not only proclaims his determination to "Make America Great Again" but also keeps his wayward hair - that lunatic fringe - in place.

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Donald Trump: Master of the demolition derby

Donald Trump

Donald Trump always threatened to turn the race for the Republican presidential nomination into even more of a reality television show.

And lately it has come to resemble a gruesome episode of Big Brother, where it becomes near impossible to evict a boorish and abusive housemate because of his popularity with viewers.

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The decline of US power?

Washington Monument at the turn of the millennium

Standing on the Washington Mall at the turn of the new millennium, it was impossible not to be struck by America's power and global pre-eminence.

Victory in the Cold War made it the hegemon in a unipolar world.

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