In his inaugural address, President Obama invoked the need to return to enduring values, saying, “[T]hose values upon which our success depends—honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism—have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.” Stirring words, indeed. But they also seem to invoke the old notion of “American exceptionalism,” that he sees as persisting into the future. Yet, the idea of American exceptionalism, an idea that has inspired some of the best, but also the worst, of this country’s actions throughout history, may be exhausted. And that may not be a bad thing. Is there something new in the return to the enduring values President Obama invoked in his speech? Or is the gap between where we are now as a country and our old aspirations too wide to bridge?

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