Mormonism and American Exceptionalism

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JULY 24, 2012

Mormonism and American Exceptionalism

Mitt Romney kicked off the foreign policy leg of his campaign (which will include a stop at the Summer Olympics in London) with a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars today. As Jonathan Chait notes, Romney is using the opportunity to revive the topic of his 2010 book, No Apology. “His overarching theme,” writes Chait, “is that he, unlike certain current presidents he could name, loves America absolutely and without qualification.”

A favorite conservative charge is that Obama is ashamed of his country and goes around the world apologizing for it. (Sample Hannity segment: “Why is Obama apologizing for America and not to America?”) It’s no surprise, then, that Romney states bluntly in his speech: “I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power.”

Chait questions whether Romney actually believes this himself or whether the rhetoric is just a bit of nationalist demagoguery. Figuring how which of Romney’s statements and positions reflect his authentic self has become something of a bipartisan sport. But I think it’s worth noting that an enthusiastic belief in American exceptionalism is part of Mormon culture and theology. There is the sacred significance of America as the setting for the Book of Mormon and the birth of the Latter-Day Saints. But there is also the belief by early LDS leaders that Mormons would one day rescue the country when it threatened to fall apart.

In an essay on this topic last month, Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune included this quote from Brigham Young: “There is not a Territory in the Union that is looked upon with so suspicious an eye as is Utah, and yet it is the only part of the nation that cares anything about the Constitution.” Bagley explained:

The Saints saw themselves as a link in a chain beginning with the Pilgrims, continuing through the Founding Fathers, and leading up to the establishment of Christ’s righteous government.

But even if, as Utah Sen. Mike Lee says, “Mormons do have an added dose of a belief in American exceptionalism,” that doesn’t mean most Mormons refuse to acknowledge or believe that the United States has made mistakes. That part seems to be Mitt Romney’s own personal spin on exceptionalism.

Follow me on Twitter at @SullivanAmy.

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posted in: london, jonathan chait, the summer olympics, the summer olympics, veterans of foreign wars, the plank

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