Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Communication Monographs

Publication Date



This paper explores the circumstances under which U.S. presidents have invoked the idea of American exceptionalism in major speeches to the nation and how the invocation of this concept has culminated during the Obama presidency. To explore these dynamics, we conducted a content analysis of all major domestic presidential addresses since the end of World War II. We find that U.S. presidents have become increasingly likely to invoke American exceptionalism, particularly after the end of the Cold War, and that in times of national crises, American exceptionalism becomes most pronounced in U.S. presidential discourse. Moreover, we demonstrate the overwhelming propensity of President Obama, relative to his predecessors, to emphasize American exceptionalism in his public communications. The reason, we argue, has to do with the double-crisis nature of his presidency—two major wars and a recession—in addition to the racial bind that he has been forced to overcome throughout his presidency. We reflect on the implications of these findings for politicians, in particular racial and other minorities, as well as the broader American public.