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Why did Donald Trump follow Barack Obama into the White House? Why is America so polarized? And how does American exceptionalism explain these social changes?

In Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other, Mugambi Jouet describes why Americans are far more divided than other Westerners over basic issues, including wealth inequality, health care, climate change, evolution, gender roles, abortion, gay rights, sex, gun control, mass incarceration, the death penalty, torture, human rights, and war. Raised in Paris by a French mother and Kenyan father, Jouet then lived in the Bible Belt, Manhattan, and beyond.

While exceptionalism once was a source of strength, it may now spell decline, as unique features of U.S. history, politics, law, culture, religion, and race relations foster grave conflicts. Exceptional America dissects the American soul, in all of its peculiar, clashing, and striking manifestations.


  The new film, Speech & Debate, directed by Dan Harris, tells the story of three “outsider” teenagers frustrated by the hypocrisy they see in their parents, teachers, and their entire school board in Salem, Oregon. The film deals with issues of homophobia, First Amendment rights, and censorship alongside trust, friendship, coping with high school. In order to find a way to make their voices heard in their community, Diwata, Solomon, and Howie revive their school’s defunct Speech & Debate team.

 

The screenplay was adapted by Stephen Karam from his play of the same name. Karam is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and his three most recent plays, Speech & Debate, Sons of the Prophet, and The Humans - the latter of which won the Tony Award for Best Play last year - have all been produced in New York City by Roundabout Theatre Company.

Sarah Steele plays Diwata in the film - reprising her role in the Off-Broadway stage production in 2007. Other credit’s include Brigid in The Humans, the 2004 film Spanglish, CBS’s The Good Wife and its spin-off for CBS All-Access, The Good Fight -- on which she plays Marissa Gold.

Steele’s Speech & Debate character, Diwata, is the quintessential High School Drama kid. She sees her life through the lens of whichever play was most recently put up in her school’s auditorium. She’s impulsive -- but she means well. Sarah Steele joins us.

  Countless books have been written about the civil rights movement, but far less attention has been paid to what happened after the dramatic passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and the turbulent forces it unleashed.

Ari Berman is a political correspondent for The Nation and an investigative journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone, and he is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and NPR.

In his book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, he charts both the transformation of American democracy under the VRA and the counterrevolution that has sought to limit voting rights, from 1965 to the present day.

David Shipler reported for the New York Times from 1966 to 1988 in New York, Saigon, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington DC. He is the author of six books including the best sellers Russia, and The Working Poor, as well as Arab and Jew which won the Pulitzer Prize.

His new book, Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America, is an examination of violations of the constitutional principles that preserve individual rights and civil liberties from court rooms to class rooms.