Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nosemonkey and Anti-Americanism

Third Avenue has a post at the Sharpener on defining anti-Americanism. Interesting stuff, with some points well-made. TA's main contention is that "anti-Americanism" is actually "anti-Bushism", but that many of Bush's critics have a tendency to refer to "America" rather than "the current US administration", effectively ignoring all the great stuff we can all laud in American society. Which is probably fair, but still it got me pondering (largely because I've been fairly intensively focussed on Europe over the last month or so). Thusly, the result - originally posted there as a comment:

An added problem being, of course, that the prominent “left” in American politics often comes across as little more than cringe-makingly rubbish: Howard “Yeeeargh!” Dean, Michael “selective and dubious facts” Moore, the Jane Fonda/Tim Robbins/Susan Sarandon “Hollywood liberal” axis, and even Chomsky (not for what he himself says, as so few people actually bother to read his often turgid prose, but for how his stuff is so often adopted by sympathetic, more extreme maniacs). None of these are exactly the finest proponents of the “other” America, but they are pretty much the only ones we hear about outside the States.

It’s the Peter Cook thing again - “in America you’ve got the Republicans, who are like the Conservatives, and the Democrats, who are like the Conservatives” (paraphrased, obviously). Although the Clinton era is now looked back on like a Golden Age in certain quarters, many people outside the US who object so much to Bush also objected to Clinton - albeit not quite so passionately. Because, by European standards, Clinton was also on the right.

I do get the impression that, over the last 4/5 years in particular although also under Clinton, there has been on the non-US left an increasing tendency to dismiss the States as a hopeless case, purely because what seems to count as “left” on that side of the Atlantic would be considered at best centrist over here. The constant reminders of the rise of the religious right only compounds the problem, as even when sensible leftish voices are heard they always appear to come primarily from the east coast or California, and so are dismissed as unrepresentative of the average American, who we all, secretly, imagine to be some fat, inbred redneck from the midwest. (It’s probably also worth pointing out that almost all of the people I know of, and I include myself here, who fall into this category would also hold up the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution as two of the greatest political ideals ever created - but these are considered as ideals never delivered upon, a potential never realised.)

Add to that the ridiculousness of a situation where the term “liberal” can be used as an insult and the fact that the only time we really hear of domestic US politics is when something insane happens, often harking back to pre-Civil Rights era politicians who are still knocking around or the neo-cons or similar, and although few people in Europe who express a dislike of America would actually consider themselves “anti-American” rather than merely “anti-Bush”, the longer this situation continues, the more the lines will become blurred.

At the moment, however, the fact that most people think of McCarthyism - and all the rabid witch-hunting imagery that conjures - when they hear the term “anti-American” means that few people accused of such a mentality will even consider for a moment that they could fall into that category, and dismiss such claims as mere lunatic-fringe ranting. Which, despite all I’ve said above, they usually are.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Fair Vote Watch said...

It's 'liberal as a term of abuse' that gets me the most. Liberalism is a pretty broad church - Eisenhower was a self-described liberal. Hell, most of ChimpyBushitler's policies are based on liberal principles (if occasionally illiberal in application). Insane. Though we shouldn't call the anti-liberals by their preferred 'conservative' monkier. Spades as spades 'n' all: they're reactionaries.

6/21/2005 03:10:00 pm  
Anonymous Katie said...

"liberal as a term of abuse"

You mean, like, um, here in France? I take great pride in having been on the unpopular side of the political debate (left in NC and then right in Paris) in both places I've lived as an adult, by virtue of continuing to be liberal...

Domestic politics. People talk a lot about the polarisation and polemical nature of the American political debate. The prominence of people like Dick Lugar and Russ Feingold doesn't make the news because the political heavyweights who are fans of bipartisanship are quietly doing their jobs while everyone else is screaming.

Bipartisan is not a word I've heard much in British politics...

6/22/2005 09:55:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

The frogs and the yanks have a lot more in common than either would care to admit... I thought the French "liberal" think was a fairly recent development, though?

By the by - there is loads of bipartisanship in Britain - just always behind the scenes and vever alled that, because it's usually more like tripartisanship. Most of the best work in Westminster gets done in small cross-party meetings and committees, and the cross-benchers in the Lords are the essential cornerstone of that institution. But, again, it's not glamourous, so it's never really talked about.

6/22/2005 10:03:00 am  
Anonymous Fair Vote Watch said...

One further thought on the US-French thing: living in a unipolar world with Washington as the centre can be frustrating and occasionally bad, but iamgine how much worse it would be if Paris was the centre.....

6/22/2005 10:11:00 am  
Anonymous Katie said...

"The frogs and the yanks have a lot more in common than either would care to admit"

HA! Yes.

"My country is responsible for all the culture in the world and my language is the best and most clear and everyone should speak it. My flag should be held up as a beacon of liberty and republicanism. Our society is classless you know, everyone can raise themselves as high as they are able to go. Church and state are officially separated, but I hate all non-Christians. Oh, and foreigners suck too."

This statement could be made by just as many stupid provincial French as stupid provincial Americans. But they get cross (both of them) when you tell them that. And anti-Frenchism, like anti-Americanism, confuses Chirac with France. He'll be gone soon. 28%...

Washington might be the centre of the unipolar world, but the political class thrives on disagreement there. Paris does not. It is a closed world, the elite. So, yes, I agree with Jarndyce. Again.

You know, getting into the British blogoland has done a lot to calm my fears about moving back to the UK for the first time in five years in August...there are people who like beer AND intelligent debate, instead of just beer.

6/22/2005 10:41:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Katie - sorry luv, not in the real world there aren't...

6/22/2005 10:49:00 am  
Anonymous Katie said...

Well, we'll just have to get started on building a revolution of the connected eh?

I'm actually quite surprised at how the UK blog networks end at the keyboard, in France & the States they back up the online network with an offline one, with conferences and such. Perhaps this is why Loic's european blogosphere wiki is so dismissive of political blogging in the UK as ineffective compared to France's...

I mean, unless y'all meet in secret.

6/22/2005 10:59:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

I've met some of them. Internet types are freakish weirdos though - it's never a good idea to encourage them by thinking they've made a real world friend. Then they turn into stalkers.

6/22/2005 11:04:00 am  
Anonymous -ronnie in new orleans- said...

I don't comment much on UK politics because I don't have a clue how it works. I do remember a young Brit from the '90's who came to the states to sell lab instruments (polarimeters etc.) and told me over dinner how everything would be different in the UK when "Tony" took over. He was particularly emphatic about the price of a pint in the local establishments, which he felt was far too high. Judging by his dropping approval ratings I guess Tony hasn't been able to solve that problem over the years.

Since that is my basic insight into British politics I don't consider myself engaged or informed enough to comment intelligently on the issue. I don't even know how a Lord becomes a Lord... or vice versa. As the kids down here say as an answer to almost anything "Whatever!"

But folks all around the world, including the UK, don't let a basic ignorance of our country, our customs, our laws, and our people keep them from making detailed analyses of all of the above. We really don't care if you or the rest of the world likes us. Would you? You guys are clueless about America. Just as most anti-Semites are clueless about Jews and their religion it does not take knowledge or facts to engender hatred and anger. Quite the opposite. Ignorance, jealousy and fear usually suffice.

As far as the unrealized potential of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence my own family left Alsace after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 (Alsace was annexed by Germany) and my Spanish mother was run out of Teruel by Franco and the Germans. My eternal thanks to the Germans in both cases for helping me to be born an American. If what myself and my family have today is due to the unrealized promises of the US Constitution, I'll take it with gratitude. I'll leave it to you guys to get it right. It seems you're off to a terrific start.

(How could the Declaration be unrealized??? you lost that war)

I have also noticed that anti-semitism and anti-americanism seem to grow in the same gardens, often at almost the same speed. Wonder what the connection is?

I wish that you guys were as totally unconcerned about our internal politics as Americans are about the EU. Nothing the US has done militarily has appreciably affected the lives of Europeans in any way. I really don't know what the US could do to be better liked by the "world". Don't think we'd bother to do it if we knew.

6/25/2005 04:52:00 am  
Blogger Joe Noory said...

"TA's main contention is that "anti-Americanism" is actually "anti-Bushism","

Oh please.

I've been hopscothing the atlantic for 25 years. The quantity of sound criticism has gone up slightly, but the irrational stuff is still the same as it always has.

The only difference now is that it's no longer cool for Europeans to call Spaniards lazy, Germans anally retentive, etc., etc. But with Americans it's still fair game.

With an accent that can't conceal my identity, there are still quite a few with the character type roaming the streets that will jump down your throat because they can't tell the difference between an AmeriCAN and AmeriCA.

They even pretend to know what they're talking about, but it always boils down to one thing: their pious conceits.
But I've found that there's as easy way to diffuse it with that type. Talk about them. Their person. Their shoes. Their hat. Flatter - because in the end, it's all about their feelings and *them*, which is why one get's opinions from a stranger in an office or a pub or a train.

7/09/2006 08:55:00 pm  

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