Theses Bachelor's

The Impact of National Crises on American Exceptionalism

Todd, William

This paper analyzes the impact of moments of national crisis on presidential emphasis surrounding American Exceptionalism. The notion of American Exceptionalism has long been integral to the American psyche and the national political landscape, with exceptionalist thought often shaping foreign policy and featuring heavily in domestic political discourse. This research is structured around case studies of two external events, 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic, and two internal events, the Global Financial Crisis and the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. For each of these cases, I examine the political rhetoric of the respective president in the aftermath of the crisis to discover how and why they embraced or turned away from the idea of American Exceptionalism through their response to the event. The findings of the research support my hypotheses that events, which pose external threats to the United States, lead to an increased emphasis on American Exceptionalism, whereas events, which pose internal threats to the United States, lead to a decreased emphasis on the nation’s exceptionalism. The first effect operates by highlighting the very values and qualities which make America exceptional, with the event essentially acting as a reminder and reinforcer of American greatness; The second effect operates by exposing flaws and vulnerabilities within the United States itself, revealing significant national weaknesses that render the values of American Exceptionalism as ephemeral.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Phillips, Justin H.
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
April 15, 2022