Dave Helling | Don’t take exception to this view

Dave Helling
Dave Helling

Last week someone tweeted — paraphrasing here — that I haven’t written or said anything nice about Kansas City in eight years.

That sounds about right, although I’ve struggled to remember something nice I might have said


years ago. The Royals had a winning record that year, maybe that was it.

Of course, saying or writing nice things isn’t a large part of a reporter’s job description. Usually we’re mucking around with people who aren’t always nice or who want to do things that aren’t nice, like take money from your pocket and put it in theirs.

You can find nice if you want to. Every week public officials and civic boosters publish dozens of news releases extolling the virtues of our community: its volunteers, its programs for the less fortunate, its plans to make the area cleaner and safer, its efforts to make Kansas City an exceptional place to live.

We’re going to hear that word —


— a lot this year. Republican presidential candidates are pushing what they call American exceptionalism, the idea that our culture and history give the United States a unique role and responsibility in world affairs. Ronald Reagan called America a “shining city on a hill.”

There is much truth to the claim. Our federal republic, now more than two centuries old, remains an astonishing example for self-governance, despite its frustrating pace. Americans’ freedom to speak is unquestioned — as any glimpse at the Internet will verify. We’re free to pursue our faith. We’re generous, we work hard, we’re largely tolerant of others, all models for the world to see and envy.

But our behavior has sometimes fallen short of our promise. Seventy years ago this spring, the federal government ordered thousands of Americans of Japanese descent into “relocation camps,” a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court. That can’t be right, no matter how exceptional we thought we were at the time.

There are other examples, some of which may quickly come to mind.

Exceptionalism should always be a goal, not an excuse. If we


exceptionally, the world’s view of us will reflect that. If we act poorly, no amount of “city on a hill” rhetoric will make much difference.

And what’s true for a country is true for a community. If Kansas City faces and fixes its toughest problems — crime, education, infrastructure, and housing come to mind — then what reporters say or think won’t really matter.

For the record, though, even with its challenges, I believe Kansas City is truly an exceptional place to live.

There, I said something nice. Apparently, it’ll be eight years before I say it again.