The cultural civil war in which America is engaged is, in large measure, about American exceptionalism. Conservative America generally believes in the concept; liberal America generally finds it chauvinistic and dangerous.
What is American exceptionalism? The belief that America often knows better than the world what is right and wrong. This belief drives most of the world’s opinion-makers crazy. And it particularly infuriates the American Left, that part of America that trusts what is called "world opinion" more than it trusts the American people.
And from where does this belief in American exceptionalism derive? Mostly from the religious beliefs that underlie American values. That is a major reason the current culture war is about the place of Judeo-Christian values in American life. Those who believe that America must remain a Judeo-Christian nation (in terms of values) are far less respectful of international institutions than those who wish to make America a secular nation.
Judeo-Christian America — American exceptionalism America — loves John Bolton, has contempt for the United Nations, mistrusts the World Court, regards Amnesty International as another morally confused leftist organization, thinks little of the world’s media and academic elites, and regards "world opinion" as morally confused and left-wing media manipulated.
On the other side are those, like the ACLU, who regard even the smallest cross on any county or city seal as a religious threat to the secular republic, who think it America’s fault that this country is not highly regarded in public opinion polls from Canada to Germany to South Korea, who passionately opposed John Bolton becoming ambassador to the U.N. because he is highly critical of that institution, and who believe that other nations’ laws should be cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Particularly significant is the difference between the two sides’ views of law, especially international law. For the Left, i.e., the opponents of American exceptionalism, law is the highest good; for the Right, especially the Judeo-Christian Right, morality is higher than law. This difference is easily observed in the way the two sides view the war in Iraq. For the opponents of American exceptionalism, generally the secular Left here and abroad, the greatest sin of the war is that it allegedly violates international law. Had it been authorized by the United Nations Security Council, as was the first war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it would have been considered legal and not have elicited nearly as much opposition as it has. But because the U.N. Security Council did not authorize this war, it is deemed illegal and therefore deemed wrong.
For the Right, especially the religious Right, however, whether China, Russia and France vote to authorize a war and make it legal is of no moral significance. Overthrowing the mass murderer/rapist/torturer Saddam Hussein was a moral good (irrespective of the presence or absence of WMD). If it violated international law, that only reflects on the moral inadequacy of international law, not on the wrongness of Americans giving up life and wealth to liberate Iraq.
The Judeo-Christian/American exceptionalism crowd thinks morally more than legally. This crowd thought that Israel’s destruction of Saddam’s nuclear reactor was a moral act. But The New York Times and the rest of the world’s Left all condemned the attack. After all, it was against international law.
As it happens, that attack was also an example of Israeli exceptionalism. Israel was not forgiven for that or for its many other instances of ignoring world opinion in order to survive. To paraphrase the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Israel has a choice between being liked and dead or alive and hated. So much for Israel’s view of "world opinion."
For the secular world, law has to be the highest definition of the good. Because it does not believe in a universal and objective morality as the Judeo-Christian world does, it has no choice but to put all its moral eggs in the legal basket. For the Judeo-Christian world, law is very, very important. But God-based morality is even more important.
Of course, such a belief has dangers. But the greater danger is thinking that law embodies morality. Rosa Parks just died. She is venerated precisely because she knew a morality higher than law. Too bad more Europeans did not place a Judeo-Christian morality above secular law. There would not have been a Holocaust.
So, as in nearly every other area of the Left-Right, blue-red divide in America, the attitude one has toward American exceptionalism ultimately lies in whether or not one wants America’s values to remain Judeo-Christian.