Since the very beginning, America has conceived of itself as exceptional in its moral purity and possibility, as the “City on a Hill” in the Puritan leader John Winthrop’s grand vision. At least since World War II, though, after which its economy represented a full one-half of the world’s GDP, America has augmented this moral self-conception to incorporate the ideal that it is also destined for, and indeed entitled to, greatness and power on Earth, down in the valley below the Hill. Cruz agrees, citing the victories in the Revolutionary War and World War II, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as proof that “from the dawn of this country, at every stage America has enjoyed God’s providential blessing.”
When such a “chosen” community declines, my theory continues, cognitive dissonance can emerge: How could we, the necessarily greatest community, be weak or even non-dominant? The umma has been living with this confusion for centuries. As Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi, one of radical Islamism’s mid-20th century founders, sermonized: “Your honor, which no one dared to touch, is now being trampled upon. … You are Muslims and yet are slaves! This situation is impossible as it is for an object to be white and black.” Many Americans similarly, if usually more subtly, worry about their nation’s descent from Cold War titan to post-recession “leader from behind.” In his book Time to Get Tough! Making America #1 Again, however, Trump is characteristically unsubtle: “The country I love is a total economic disaster right now. We have become a laughingstock, the world’s whipping boy, blamed for everything, credited for nothing, given no respect. You see and feel it all around you, and so do I.”
When presented with such a dissonant reality, the theory concludes, at least two explanations can safeguard the community’s sense of “chosen-ness.” Trump embodies the first, and Cruz the second. Radical Islamists employ both.