American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People

Jared Yates Sexton. Dutton, $29 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4571-4
Sexton (The Man They Wanted Me to Be), a professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University, exposes the myth of American exceptionalism in this searing account. He unravels how slavery enabled America’s growth as a world power while creating fault lines in a country founded on the notion that all men are created equal. By stoking pride in America’s frontier spirit and unique contributions to the world, Sexton contends, 18th- and 19th-century thinkers, politicians, and business leaders provided a rationale for the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans, and cemented the nation’s racialized hierarchy, which took on new, more insidious forms after the Civil War and emancipation. WWI and WWII raised America’s reputation around the globe, Sexton writes, even as the country was slowly being consumed from within by racial, economic, and political divisions that have found their fullest expression in President Trump’s racist populism. Sexton’s survey of American political history is taut and tart, but his prescriptions for recapturing the better angels of the American spirit and renewing faith in science and reason gloss over the heavy lifting involved. Still, this is an unflinching and well-crafted takedown of the nationalist rhetoric that fueled Trump’s rise. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 08/03/2020
Release date: 09/15/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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