“The United States’ obsession with its own magnitude is perhaps one of our must destructive tendencies, and it shows up all over the place,” says rhetorical historian Christa Olson, citing environmental excess, international intervention, and white nationalism. “As a country, we need to find a way to have a dominant narrative of value that isn’t about being the biggest and the best. It’s not sustainable, morally or environmentally.”
Today, she joins guest host Karma Chávez on the show for a discussion of her book American Magnitude, which traces the history of how the U.S. came to see itself as a “city on a hill” and the greatest country in the world—and how that rhetoric and sentiment has excluded and alienated Latin America and carried into the present day.
Christa J. Olson is professor of composition & rhetoric and associate chair of the English Department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her most recent book is American Magnitude: Hemispheric Vision and Public Feeling in the United States (The Ohio State University Press, 2021).