All posts by jessicahyman

American Exceptionalism as a key aspect in Trumpism

In my Research Based Argument, I plan to explore how American exceptionalism manifests in the Trump regime. Through case studies like Guantanamo Bay and Japanese internment, I plan to expose the dangers of a persident that full internalizes, embraces, and actively promotes a return to a permanent state of exception. My paper will define American exceptionalism, explore its application throughout history, explain the perils of a new American exceptionalist regime under Trump, and how his administration represents exceptionalism.

Map Outline:


Guantanamo and the Paradox of American Exceptionalism

One of the key aspects of American culture is the idea that a self designated sense of moral superiority allows for Americans to pass judgement on the culpability of those who we deem “other.” As this becomes a more ingrained part of the American doxa and fear comes to govern foreign policy, the United States runs the risk of adopting a culture of dehumanization towards prisoners of President Bush’s “War on Terror.”

Many commentators have used the Guantanamo Bay detention facility as a symbol for American Exceptionalism. As corroborated by various accounts of lawyers that represented prisoners in Guantanamo, the debate over the rights of prisoners reveals the moral superiority complex that the United States possesses. At Guantanamo, it has been debated what rights prisoners deserve. For example, Morris Davis, a lawyer from the camp recounts the debate that he had with his superiors about Miranda rights as well as rights to a quick and speedy trial. Guantanamo serves as a current example of the contradictions that America embraces as a result of the War on Terror. Through my exploration of this detention facility, I hope to demonstrate the way that Bush’s War on Terror echoes the contradictions that plagued Cold War culture. These contradictions, as explored by Kenneth Roth in his examination of the state of United States foreign policy, present the possibility of transforming the United States from “one of the world’s most progressive nations when it comes to protecting the rights of criminal suspects to one of the least.” The current judicial proceedings of Guantanamo Bay have created a void which allows for the growth of moral decay creating a gilded effect. This gilded effect, where the United States presents a façade of morality while existing in a state of moral decay, allows for the corruption of the current justice system and the decay of this country’s current values.

“A Private Little War” and Media Challenges to Political Rhetoric

Star Trek, in part, was created as a means to critique foreign and domestic political policy on a national basis in the form of television. The show focuses on the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise and their journey through space and beyond as they visit distant planets and peoples. Through the adventures of this ship, the production crew is able to critique the government in an allegorical manner.

In the episode “A Private Little War”, the captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk, revisits a planet that he had visited many years before. He is surprised to find that the inhabitants o the planet are now able to use flintlock rifles when the last time he had visited, they were just discovered gun powder. Kirk discovers that this rapid advancement is due to a war initiated by a rival group on the planet who was receiving advisement from a Klingon administrator. The rival group was also receiving weapons from the Klingons, which resulted in the rapid industrialization. Kirk, in an attempt to preserve peace and a balance of powers on the planet, decides to provide weapons to the native group thus breaching the non-intervention policy of the Federation, a national organization dedicated to protecting peace throughout the universe.

This episode in particular garnered much criticism for the Star Trek production crew as only a short time before the airing of the episode did they sign a petition acknowledging their protest of the war in Vietnam. The episode served as an allegory for the Vietnam War , but as Sarantakes explains in his analysis of the series, the episode “had been reworked to suggest that the United States was attempting to do the right thing in a situation in which there really was no good course of action.” The ambiguity of the episode led the public to question the validity of the crew’s protest of the war.

Star Trek, like many other fantasy and science fiction media, takes advantage of its fantastical nature in order to indirectly comment on the current state of affairs in a country. With television, especially as it became a greater consumed and common form of media distribution, the acceptableness of content was under greater examination. Through allegory, writers were able to present their own ideas to the public and allow the public to form their own beliefs based on the information or perspectives presented to them. The public can choose to accept the information presented to them as truth, especially with science fiction where the truth is a possible future that could occur as shown in the Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory”, or it can choose to reject the messages. Either way, fantastical genres allow writers to model real life situations in a way that is indirect enough where the upshot of the situation is clear, but the allegorical counterparts may not be.

Television is not the only form of media consumed by the public that attacks controversial issues. In Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses a very isolated and concentrated population to model the events of world war two. He uses a group of young boys, who represent both innocence and two separate ideologies (democracy and communism) at war with each other. The characters of this fictional setting does not make it the ideal environment to overtly criticize the war, however the young ages do emphasize the absurdity of the ideologies and actions of both parties.


The Great American Panic: The United States and Urban Chaos

With nuclear threat ever present on the horizon, America entered a state of perpetual fear centered around the fear of mutually assured destruction with the Soviets. Because of this, Mathew Farris argues in this book Disaster and Decentralization: American Cities and the Cold War, that “the suburban nuclear family quickly became the locus of normality  — and thus of the burgeoning civil defense programme.” The the country in a constant state of fear, the Untied states relied on a very specific, very strict set of expectations and values for each American in order to feel some sort of ease in a tumultuous environment. By focusing on the idea of the nuclear family, suggesting a tight knit family that lived in a suburban house with a white picket fence, Farris gets at the three central fears of the Cold War era. The tight knit family is representative of faith in the fellow American. During the Cold War, paranoia ran rampant and it was expected of each American to spy on their fellow neighbor in order to report them should their actions or methods seem threatening to the idea of a faithful American. If they conformed and portrayed a stereotypical nuclear family, then urban cities should be peaceful and not concerned with the chaos of fear. The idea of conformity also enforced strict gender roles to the point, as Farris notes, that “suburban women and female sexuality represented the greatest threat to national order” because they were deviations from the expectation of women during this time.

Secondly, the suburban flight of the American nuclear family was directly correlated with the idea of white flight to the suburbs. Another characteristic of the Cold War was White Flight to the suburbs. During this time period, class lines seemed to disintegrate as people of color moved into cities and others moved out, however, the racial lines and distinctions within the country grew and became even more prevalent than before. The idea of suburbia, Farris argues, is one of light while cities were mysterious and dark. By creating an image of light associated with the nuclear family, Farris explains that suburbs eliminated the possibility of the unknown, which highlights the Cold War era’s fear of that  which it did not know.

Finally, the idea of the white picket fence as a means of protection. With the Cold War era came the rise in home defense. People did not feel safe in their homes. With nuclear war an ever present fear, people felt that they had to protect themselves from any threat that they could. This scrounging  for a sense of protection is a direct result of the images that were shown to the American people post Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The obsessive need to seek protection from the horrors of a nuclear attack led the American people rely on any mean necessary, even if that was just a white picket fence.

Interestingly, we see this same mentality being implemented into today’s society. Every September 11th since the attacks, social media, news, and other media sources plaster the screens with images of two burning towers as a means to remind people of the events that took place fifteen years ago. The result of these images is two fold. It reminds the American people of a sense of helplessness that we had not known before, but also motivates the public to adopt a self preserving mentality. The victimization of the American public is an intense tool that has been used since the attacks to incite both fear and patriotism into the public. The fear resulting fear, fear of another attack, fear of that which we do not know, or fear of losing a certain lifestyle, has contributed to the “us versus them” mentality in the United States. As a result, xenophobia and racism have become more strongly ingrained in the American psyche. This is also a result of the self preserving mentality. The idea of what an American is has been redefined in the context of the events of September 11th in the sense that an American is white, Christian, and male. While this definition may seem old, its application and its use as justification for prejudice have changed in recent years. Every year on September 11th, the American public is reminded of the image of a “true” American and the images of the attack only serve to reenforce this idea.

An Analysis of McDuffie’s Exploration of Horne’s Thesis

Two of the key characteristics that characterize the majority of people during the Cold War were fear and hate. The felt fear of the enemy; they feared their own inability to protect themselves in the face of nuclear war. The lack of knowledge that the American people possessed lead to a distinctly overwhelming sense of fear causing people to retreat into themselves, their communities, and their countries resulting in over demonstrated nationalism. They had a very particular version in their own minds of what was considered to be “proper” and “civilized” creating a very overarching mentality that it was the idealized American versus the unknown. Those who didn’t fit the idealized American persona, like African Americans, were thrown in with the uncivilized socialists and communists. The adjacent nature of the Red Scare and fear of the Civil Rights Movement grew out of the perfectionist nature of American society at the time. McDuffie’s analysis that the Civil Rights Movement mirrored the values of the socialist movement reflects a different aspect of Cold War socialism that was not previously understood. Did Du Bois turn more towards socialist rather than capitalist ideals in his later years as a belief that socialism did truly present the means to equality?

Containment Culture as Reflected in NBC’s “Hannibal “

In the years following the attacks of September 11th, Cold War culture has permeated every aspect of popular culture. By highlighting paranoia within the government as well as persecution of those who deviate from social norms, NBC’s Hannibal (2013-2015) exemplifies the Cold War mindset through a focus on forensic psychology and sociopathic serial killers. The show follows the investigation of various serial killers with a focus on the Chesapeake Ripper, a relentless serial killer who has avoided capture for the last ten years. The main characters are Will Graham, a special investigator; Jack Crawford, the director of the FBI’s Behavioral Science department; and Hannibal Lector, a psychiatrist whose duty is oversee the mental sanity of Will Graham. Each of these characters represent a certain aspect of containment culture.

In the show, Graham possesses the unique ability to place himself in the mind of serial killers and reenact the murders in order to create a psychological profile. This ability is unique to Graham which makes it very poorly understood. Because of this, many people within the FBI question Will and eventually leads to his incarceration. He is mistrusted by his peers and colleagues despite his honest reputation with them because of the word of another man (Lector) whose abilities are seen as conventional and conforming. Much like in the Cold War, deviation from the norm is dangerous. His ability, despite its usefulness and benefits, casts him into the category of “other” and therefore makes him a threat to what the FBI believes is essential to preserving peace and safety for the team, town, and country.

Like Will Graham, Jack Crawford represents another aspect of containment culture: paranoia. As the show progresses, Jack is unable to determine who he can trust even going as far to say that he “can’t trust anyone”. He is overly cautious of those around him; he is skeptical of both Graham and Lector because he believes that either one or both of them is the Chesapeake Ripper. He does not trust the judgement of those superior to him because he believes in a certain measurement of federal corruption. He does not trust his wife because she withheld that she is dying of cancer from him. His inability to trust results in over caution creating an individualized version of Cold War “us versus them” ideology. He believes that he is alone in his battles and therefore schemes and plays games to receive information by any means possible. It is this paranoia and constant questioning that eventually leaves to his death.

Unlike Graham and Crawford, Lector is unfamiliar. The characters in the show often make comments about his mysterious past and relative unapproachableness. The unfamiliarity of Lector allows him to permeate every aspect of the FBI’s behavior science unit. He is a main contributor to Jack’s paranoia as well as an instigator of the prejudice against Will. He diagnoses Will and speaks to Jack about psychological issues under the guise of friendship. Lector’s intelligence is alluring to various characters in the show but his mystery also makes him suspicious. As the instigator of paranoia and suspicion, the attitudes towards Lector mirror those towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Cold War culture has become increasingly popular in the media. Television series such as Hannibal demonstrate the ways that the United States as a country has changed in the wake of the unknown.

**Warning graphic content

Hannibal Season Two Trailer: