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We are the ones we’ve been waiting for

February 5, 2015

“Everyone’s special, Dash.”

“Which is another way of saying no one is.”

The Incredibles

Yesterday, I attended two “awards” ceremonies at my children’s schools. No one should be surprised that every student received “awards” and recognition, regardless of their performance. Afterward, my older son let loose with harsh words against his classmates who received only the “Achievement Award.” He saw it for what it was – a token for those who did not excel and really deserved no recognition. I told him to be nice, but I didn’t tell him he was wrong. He wasn’t.

Witnessing these two “everyone’s a winner” travesties made me realize I had strong thoughts on exceptionalism and individualism, and that these thoughts were closely tied to why we as a nation celebrate the right of the people (not the state) to keep and bear arms. To be clear, there are different ways to view “exceptionalism.” When some people speak of “American Exceptionalism,” they speak of the U.S.A. as a special place, unique in history and striving for moral purpose. This is a concept that hearkens back to our founding, when Reverend John Winthrop referred to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “city on a hill,” a phrase he borrowed from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Kennedy and Reagan both evoked this image of America as a “city on a hill,” a beacon of freedom and hope to the rest of the world.  But when others think of “American exceptionalism,” they think of grotesque nationalism – of an America so consumed with pride it thinks itself above the rules. Such a country is arrogant and needs to be reined in by humility and, if necessary, calamity. It is this mindset that gives rise to “awards” for everyone, for surely those who score the highest, put forth the most determination and cross the finish line first are just waiting to boast about it, humiliating those who come after them. The way to stop this arrogance is to lift up the also-rans to the same level. There is no exceptionalism. We are all exceptional. We – the community.

By itself, this thinking seems benign. Watching my special child get cut from the soccer team, struggling with science, or confessing to the principal he stole a grown-up’s car keys (true story about my seven-year-old) wrenches my heart. I don’t want them to feel bad. But I also know the fruit of these setbacks – harder training, more studying, and tangible punishment now to avoid leg irons and orange jumpsuits later. I have the future in mind for my children, so I expect them to be exceptional; I expect them to stand tall.

In fact, refusing to celebrate truly exceptional achievements creates the bad kind of exceptionalism. This thinking makes one believes he is above training, above studying, above punishment – he is Rodion Raskolnikov, entitled to privilege without effort. This thinking has one another effect. In celebrating “community,” we can diminish the individual. And when we diminish the individual, who lifts up his brother or sister? Who feeds the starving and steps in to fight evil? Why, the Community – the State. After all, as President Obama claimed during his campaign, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” And by “we,” he meant the Collective. He meant the Community.

Who is this Community? Where was the Community when neighbors and friends were rounded up and sent to the camps in 1930s Germany? They were right there, watching, denouncing and even pulling the trigger. Where was the Community when six or more students gang-raped a 15-year-old girl at her homecoming dance in Richmond, California? They were right there – at least twenty of her classmates – watching and taking no action. Why did they do nothing to stop the brutal attack on their friend? Were they afraid? Were they unable? What prevented them from even calling the police (the State) until hours after the attack? I can only guess, but psychologists would call this the Diffusion of Responsibility: the more people present at a crisis, the less likely an individual is to take action.

Unless that person thinks he or she is the only one who can help. Unless that person regards himself as the exception.

That person is you.

To the “community-minded,” to the Statist, this thinking is dangerous. It elevates a person in his mind above his neighbor. To be sure, many a criminal regards himself as somehow “exceptional” – above the rules because he has a gun. This is the ugly variety of exceptionalism. But since all of us have the capability of deadly force, I believe the gun serves a reminder that when a 15-year-old girl is being raped, I am the solution. I am the one she is waiting for. Not a Community (a word invoked by many in Richmond, California, trying to make sense of this horrible attack). Not the State, who is famously “minutes away.” Me.

If this sounds big-headed, if this sounds like I regard myself as special, it’s because I do. Not because I carry a gun. But because I am there, in that place and that time. I am uniquely positioned and ready to help that family broken down on the side of the road – because I carry jumper cables and a charger in my trunk. I am there to help a beggar with money and a listening ear – because I’ve thought and prayed about what being a compassionate servant means. I am ready to do my best for the crash victim in the intersection – because I trained in first aid. And if, like Thomas Glenn Terry, Jeanne Assam or Nick Meli, I find myself standing between evil and the innocent, I pray I am prepared enough to intervene – because I have striven to be in shape, tried to learn how to fight – because I carry a gun.

Anti-gun “intellectuals” like to ridicule us, claiming we hold to the “Myth of the Hero Gunslinger.” They deride the prepared not only because they despise guns, but also because they despise exceptionalism in all its forms. These are the people who created the “everyone wins” mentality, and when some evil person shatters that mirage, the last thing they want is for that deranged exceptionalist to be subdued by an armed citizen, another exception. They think, perhaps, that we are waiting to boast and claim superiority over them – after all, the only exceptionalists they see are the insufferable kind. And I’m certain there are plenty in our number who won’t disappoint. But I suspect a lot of us think of ourselves as Cincinnatus’s citizen-soldiers, ready to serve in the interest of our Community – the opposite of what Obama and Progressives advocate. In other words, we are the militia necessary to the security of a free state. We are prepared to be the last hope – not just in a gunfight, but in all struggles against evil and hopelessness.

My kids will work hard to make the team, ace the test and stay out of jail. I will strive to pay my bills, help my neighbors, and teach my children to do the same – to be exceptional regardless of what team they’re on or how successful they become. Because I opened with my children in school, please allow me one last anecdote in the same vein. My proudest moment as a father was not when my oldest son ran the fastest cross country time or when my youngest son shot a bullseye at his first Scout campout. It when my older son told me his classmates were picking on a new student. “But I stood up for her,” he proclaimed without pride, just reporting the fact. “Good,” I said, thrilled that years of catechizing had taken hold. “Maybe you can be her friend.” “No way,” he shot back. “She’s really stuck up.” There was no personal gain for him here – just a solid sense of right and wrong. And the knowledge that at that time, in that place, he was the one his classmate was waiting for.

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