The exceptionalism thesis is well known. It purports that the United States—because of its anti–colonial tradition, democratic values, and liberal institutions—is not and has never been an empire. Scholarship critical of exceptionalist thought has demonstrated how this self-fashioning works. In denying empire, the United States exhibits an “imperial amnesia” about its past while “displacing” its imperial present. But recent events have served to complicate both traditional exceptionalism and the claims of its critics.
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