Like half of America—and most of Europe and Australia—I’m baffled by how out of sync we are with the modern world when it comes to LGBQT and women’s rights, prison conditions, and gun control. How is it possible to be skeptical about climate change, and what part of “affordable healthcare” is so offensive? And like half of America, I watched in horror as the election results came in on November 9th.
Why did Donald Trump win the presidency? Why is America so polarized? And how does American exceptionalism explain these social changes?
In EXCEPTIONAL AMERICA, Mugambi Jouet describes why Americans are far more divided than other Westerners over basic issues. Raised in Paris by a French mother and Kenyan father, Jouet then lived in the Bible Belt, Manhattan, and beyond. Drawing inspiration from Alexis de Tocqueville, he investigates how the intense polarization of U.S. conservatives and liberals has become a key dimension of American exceptionalism—an idea widely misunderstood as American superiority—which, once a source of strength, may now spell decline.
The book also sheds light on the ideological evolution of American conservatism, which long predated Trumpism. Anti-intellectualism, conspiracy-mongering, a visceral suspicion of government, and Christian fundamentalism are far more common in America than the rest of the Western world—Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. EXCEPTIONAL AMERICA dissects the American soul, in all of its peculiar, clashing, and striking manifestations.
Mugambi Jouet teaches at Stanford Law School. His writing has been featured in Mother Jones, Slate, The New Republic, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, Salon, The Hill, Libération, Le Monde, and academic journals. He has traveled extensively within America and internationally.
America is exceptional, just not in the way most conservative think. What makes us exceptional, argues Mugambi Jouet in this engaging and learned book, is precisely the degree to which American conservatives reject ideas that are well-accepted in the rest of the Western world and instead embrace punitive criminal justice policies, fundamentalist religious beliefs, and an anti-intellectualism that rejects established findings ranging from global warming to biological evolution. Seeking to understand rather than condemn, Jouet offers a rich and revealing portrait of the America that produced President Donald J. Trump.”—Jacob S. Hacker, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University
This thought-provoking work explores a political shift that has transformed the concept of American exceptionalism into one of American superiority. The author, raised in Paris by a French mother and a Kenyan father and a graduate of American universities, brings the invaluable perspective of an insider-outsider to the double-edged impact of exceptionalist ideology on both the United States and the world. With a combination of appreciation and skepticism, he recognizes the positive exceptionalism of America as a ‘city on a hill’ as well as a negative insularity that has made the United States an outlier among Western democracies on issues ranging from capital punishment to international human rights treaties.”—Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of The Age of American Unreason
The election of Donald Trump, writes Mugambi Jouet, was not an exceptional departure from American ways of thinking. Rather, the intensifying conservatism that produced it is exceptional when compared to other Western democracies and to America’s own asserted values of liberty, equality, and justice. From a multidisciplinary and global perspective, Jouet brilliantly dissects the historical, political, and ideological reasons why Americans are so polarized from other nations and from each other. Exceptional America sheds fresh light on the peculiar and alarming state of U.S. politics today.”—Dorothy Roberts, Professor of Law and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century.
And join Mugambi at events here:
April 22nd-23rd at LA Times Book Festival
April 28th at Stanford Political Science Department
May 17th at Harvard Square Cambridge Forum
May 23rd at Marin County Book Passage
May 24th at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club
June 19th at the 92nd Street Y
June 24th at Politics and Prose Bookstore