Much eye rolling comes when I pronounce, "Let me show you on a map ... "
So many bad decisions come from a poor understanding of geography, and I love that it is emphasized in my kids' school - mostly because it gives me a chance to "help" them understand.
There are many things that make the USA exceptional - what makes us unique. There are those things we have made; our Constitution and the experiment of a nation united by ideas - but there is something structural as well.
Aaron David Miller over at FP has a nice little article that covers part of that in, How Geography Explains the United States;
The United States is the only great power in the history of the world that has had the luxury of having nonpredatory neighbors to its north and south, and fish to its east and west. The two oceans to either side of the country are what historian Thomas Bailey brilliantly described as its liquid assets.Note that third paragraph ... we need to make sure to keep that freedom from religious and ethnic conflict ... lose that, and its all over.
Canadians, Mexicans, and fish. That trio of neighbors has given the United States an unprecedented degree of security, a huge margin for error in international affairs, and the luxury of largely unfettered development.
Freed from the religious and ethnic conflicts of the Old World, America emerged as a world power relatively free from the heavy burdens of ideology. In the New World, Americans created a creed based on the centrality of the individual and the protection of rights and liberties.
Part of that creed also involved a commitment to pragmatism. To overcome the challenges of nation-building, the United States became a country of fixers. Above all, what mattered was what worked.
Sure, it was America's unique political system that forced compromise and practicality. But we shouldn't kid ourselves: The United States' success was made possible by a remarkable margin of security provided by two vast oceans, which allowed Americans the time and space to work on their union largely freed from constant external threats and crises.