While American exceptionalism is a lightning rod issue, we may be able to find some common ground asking simply, "what makes America great?"
The US Naval Academy class of 2002 was the first class to graduate from that institution following 9-11. They've recently published a book which Tom Brokaw has says is a "must read for all Americans"
The title of the book, "In the Shadow of Greatness", alludes to several ideas:
1. The Greatest Generation and American veterans who have gone before us have cast a great shadow. We continue to be inspired by them, honor them and remember them. We endeavor to live up to their example, to stand on their shoulders and do great things for our own generation and the next.
2. The events of 9-11 brought the cause of our generation into focus - a war on terror - but this proved to be a shadowy war, unlike the black and white distinctions of World War II. We've been struggling to act heroically in the face of uncertainty. The stories in "The Shadow of Greatness" capture this hope and will inspire others to do likewise.
3. When we headed off to college, we shrugged off the generalizations about Gen X and Millennials having ambivalent attitudes and short attention spans. We wanted to cast our own shadow. We have, and you have.
Now that the book is complete, the class would like to encourage a serious dialogue about the enduring qualities that make America great.