Jouet begins his book by describing his work as a human rights lawyer representing poor prisoners in New York at the time of mass incarceration on a scale unprecedented in global history. He goes on to describe how the degeneration of American justice embodies troubling dimensions of American exceptionalism, including acute wealth inequality, systemic racism, anti-intellectualism, Christian fundamentalism, and chronic human rights abuses. While the word “exceptional” can imply greatness or superiority, American exceptionalism historically referred to how America is “exceptional” in the sense of “unique,” “different,” “unusual,” “extraordinary” or “peculiar.” Ironically, scores of Americans equate “exceptionalism” with their nation’s superiority when it might be its Achilles Heel—a self-destructive vicious circle threatening admirable dimensions of American society.
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