What are the main ideas in Stephen Fender's "The American Difference" (chapter one in Mick Gidley's Modern American Culture)?
Ever since its founding, America has tried to distinguish itself from other nations. In his sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" (1630), John Winthrop encouraged his fellow pilgrims on board of the Arbella that their experiment would be a "city upon a hill". This was one of the first forms of the so-called American exceptionalism, the effort to present the unique traits of the American experience and society. As most of the contributions to the field of American Studies, Stephen Fender's piece subjects this belief in the difference of America to critical scrutiny. The idea of a coherent and uniform national character is challenged in favor of a conception of America as a nation of people who like to think and imagine themselves as different. Thus, Fender argues that the American difference is not a real, tangible difference but "the idea of one" (page 7). The American wish to be different has always been "mother and father to the fact" (page 20).