080226 Thaikarl - one view of the US from across the world


you know i seldom make political comments, or social comparisons etc.  but this  article in The  Nation i found interesting.  not just because of it's point of view, but because the sentiments are an echo of what i have heard other Internationals saying.  by Internationals, i  mean  people from any  country, who have lived - not just touristed - on other countries, and have more of a world-view, rather than a national-view, based on their home country. 

taken from The Nation: opion

America: the land of hype and corny?

As long as you can get past their adherence to political correctness and their irritating habit of megaphoning private conversations, Americans are - mostly - very nice people. Surely we can all agree on that.

Published on February 26, 2008

But a few things recently have reminded me what really ticks me off about them. It is their propensity for beating their chests and proclaiming themselves to be the best in the world at everything.

Take, for example, the game that stops the nation. It's not good enough that they call it the "Super Bowl". Oh no, the commentators and hype merchants then have to refer to it as the "world championship".

My advice to Americans: stop claiming to be the best at everything. If you win a world title, against other teams from around the globe, then good on you. Otherwise, isn't it enough just to be America's best?

In the political arena, presidential candidates drum home the tired old message that the US is not just the world's only superpower, but also the "greatest country on Earth". One of the aspiring candidates recently called the United States the greatest country in the history of the Earth. Next it will be the universe.

What is "great" exactly? My pocket Oxford defines it as "of a size or amount or extent or intensity much above the normal or average". Collins Thesaurus says it is "big, bulky, colossal, elephantine, enormous, extensive and gigantic".

I think of the elephant when I think of the US. Large, mostly benign and well-meaning, generously philanthropic, but oh so clumsy in situations that call for delicate footwork and a certain sensitivity.

At home, the huge number of Americans who don't own a passport and have little knowledge of the world are always being told they are the biggest and the best and the brightest. No wonder they believe it. They also have this strange idea that if the rest of the world's populace had its way, it would be clamouring to live in the US.

Asians and the Europeans don't like American food all that much. Sure we may have been seduced by Americana, but let's face it: Hollywood and fast food pale alongside the rich and ancient cultures found around the rest of the globe.

We have all been watching the presidential campaign with a certain horrid fascination. While they may be a necessary part of the political theatre, those rallies where the candidate is "just so happy to be back in south Texas" just seem so contrived.

Does anyone actually believe rhetoric so lacking in substance? It is only now that commentators are waking up to the fact that as charismatic as he is, Democrat Barack Obama does little more than mouth generalities and platitudes.

A young voter told CNN recently that Obama "will make us look good in the eyes of the world". I'm not so sure about that. Isn't he the same man who said that if the circumstances warranted it, he would order the US military into Pakistan - with or without Islamabad's permission?

And that other boast: America, The Great Democracy. Is it really? Not only hasn't it had a female president yet, but Hillary Clinton happily reminds her supporters that women's suffrage came about only in her own mother's lifetime.

Then take a look at the US voter turnout, which has dropped from a high of 65 per cent in 1960 to barely 50 per cent today. In many parts of Asia - Thailand's Northeast for one - the turnout rarely drops below 80 per cent.

India could easily lay claim to being the world's great democracy. It certainly has a bigger voting population. Also, more importantly, it has to work so much harder, and overcome so many more obstacles, to maintain that status.

I have always believed that the September 11 attacks had such a devastating impact on the psyche of many Americans because it was the first time outsiders had intruded on their comfortable, closeted world. For the many Americans - and there are many - who rarely venture beyond their home county, let alone home state, it was a terrifying realisation that the world could reach out and touch them in a way they did not believe possible.

Almost to a man, their reaction was to retreat into the safe cocoon of patriotism, fly the Stars and Stripes from their pickup trucks - and vote for George W Bush, who vowed to protect them.

The US media could help remove this Us versus Them mentality by improving its coverage of a world its country has so much influence over, instead of continuing its ever-growing fascination with misbehaving "celebrities".

Finding out about the rest of the world might also help Mr Middle America get over his fear of all Muslims, his unease with a rapidly growing China and his strange hatred of the United Nations.

We would like America better if its citizens recognised our existence sometimes - even our sporting achievements - instead of just pining for our unconditional love and acceptance. Who knows, we might even begin to believe it is the greatest.

The Straits Times is a member of the Asia News Network.

guest columnist

John McBeth/The Straits Times

The Nation

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