From writer and political analyst Jared Yates Sexton comes a journey through the history of the United States, from the nation’s founding to the twenty-first century, which examines and debunks the American myths we've always told ourselves.
In recent years, Americans have faced a deluge of horrifying developments in politics and culture: stolen elections, fascist rallies, families torn apart and locked away. A common refrain erupts at each new atrocity: This isn't who we are.
In American Rule, Jared Yates Sexton upends those convenient fictions by laying bare the foundational myths at the heart of our collective American imagination. From the very origins of this nation, Americans in power have abused and subjugated others; enabling that corruption are the many myths of American exceptionalism and steadfast values, which are fed to the public and repeated across generations. Working through each era of American growth and change, Sexton weaves together the origins and perpetuation of these narratives still in the public memory, and the acts we have chosen to forget.
Stirring, deeply researched, and disturbingly familiar, American Rule is a call to examine our own misconceptions of what it means, and has always meant, to be an American.
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.