When people are in trouble they reach back to the tried-and-true ideas of their past. They instinctively grasp for a reed in the turbulent current of the rapids. If selfishness and recklessness seems to have piled you up on the rocks then maybe the answer is sobriety and faithfulness.
Nations do the same. When Germany lost World War I it couldn't believe that "the most advanced nation in the world" could be in such trouble. So Germans reached back into the past, to the idea of the old German nation united by blood. And it returned to the atavisms of blood and soil, particularly the conquest of Lebensraum in the East, echoing the Drang nach Osten of the previous millennium--the Teutonic knights, the conquest of Prussia.
The result was an even worse disaster.
Now the US is in trouble and people are looking back to the past for things that worked. And that is where American exceptionalism comes in. For when Americans think about going back to the past it means going back to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Our glorious past is not atavistic, Blood and Soil, but modern, the bright shining city on a hill of the great American Revolution and its stunning political institutions. And there is the example of Alexander Hamilton's implementation of the Dutch financial system of hard-money central bank providing a solid foundation for the bond and stock markets.
When a populist politician like Sarah Palin goes on a nostalgia tour she visits Mount Vernon, the Liberty Bell and the founding documents: America before it was corrupted by the Big Government of the educated elite, America of Alexander Hamilton's "perfect system" before it was mucked up by the easy money chaps.
Or, if we look back a mere generation we can return to the solutions to the 1970s stagflation implemented by President Reagan.
President Obama and the Democrats are folks that ever hanker for another New Deal. They think that the New Deal was the great solution to the problem of the Great Depression of the 1930s. After all, that's what liberal historians have been telling them for 70 years. So they implemented an economic program that they thought would repeat the best of the New Deal. Problem is that they are wrong. The New Deal was not economic salvation but an economic disaster that kept the Depression going for years. You could look it up in Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man or at my own US Stuck on Stupid.
As stagflation rears its ugly head and gathers momentum in the next year Americans are going to be looking desperately for new leaders and the new leaders will be looking at solutions from out of the past. Fortunately, in this exceptional nation, unlike the poor bloody Germans, there are solutions in the past that really work. Cut regulations. Cut tax rates. Cut spending and put the funding of the National Debt on a sustainable basis. Get back to the principles of the Founding.
Funny thing. It's worked every time it's been tried.