53 pages • 1 hour readJames L. Swanson
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“American exceptionalism” describes the U.S. ethos of individualism and personal responsibility, which is closely tied to representative democracy and laissez-faire economic policies. This ethos provides a ripe backdrop for an obsession with fame and belief that each unique individual has the opportunity to carve out a place in history for oneself, which helps explain why on average approximately 300 individuals run for president in each election since 1980.
While American celebrity obsession may feel as though it’s gotten worse in the technologically infused Facebook era, its roots go far back in American history, as Chasing Lincoln’s Killer shows. Booth was a man propelled by his own hubris to carry out and seek credit for one of the most heinous acts in historical politics. Though Lincoln was shot a little after ten p.m. on April 14, he didn’t die until nearly 7:30 a.m. on April 15. This suggests that there was ample time to attempt to save his life, but all interactions with the President after he was shot seemed motivated by self-interest: Laura Keene creates a scene and bloodies her dress, the doctors seemed paralyzed and stole a lock of his hair, ultimately giving him an unnecessary autopsy to make a name for themselves.
By James L. Swanson