In an article at The Chronicle titled Waking Up From the American Dream, Sasha Abramsky worries that the rest of the world is losing faith in the American Dream.
In many ways, the Iraq war is merely a pretext for a deeper discontent with how America has seemed to fashion a new global society, a new economic, military, and political order in the decade and a half since the end of the cold war. America may only be riding the crest of a wave of modernization that, in all likelihood, would have emerged without its guiding hand. But add to the mix a discontent with the vast wealth and power that America has amassed in the past century and a deep sense of unease with the ways in which a secular, market-driven world divvies up wealth and influence among people and nations, and you have all the ingredients for a nasty backlash against America.
I’m not talking merely about the anti-globalism of dispossessed Third World peasants, the fears of the loss of cultural sovereignty experienced by societies older and more traditional than the United States, the anger at a perceived American arrogance that we’ve recently been reading so much about. I’m talking about something that is rooted deeper in the psyches of other nations. I guess I mean a feeling of being marginalized by history; of being peripheral to the human saga; of being footnotes for tomorrow’s historians rather than main characters. In short, a growing anxiety brought on by having another country and culture dictating one’s place in the society of nations.
This should give you some sense of Abramsky’s position: it is, yes, that America has done what it needed to, that the rest of the world’s perceptions are truly distorted. Gorbachev is wrong. Mandela must be wrong. The ignorant masses of Jordan and Morocca and Turkey and, oh yeah, France and Germany, they all must be wrong.
Not to say that foreign perceptions of a country aren’t necessarily wrong. Lots of people think Canadians are somehow nicer than Americans, when I find the genuinely nice and the genuinely rotten people to be distributed pretty similarly among the expats I’ve met of Canadian and American extraction.
Oh, but here’s something:
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, an outpouring of genuine, if temporary, solidarity from countries and peoples across the globe swathed America in an aura of magnificent victimhood. We, the most powerful country on earth, had been blindsided by a ruthless, ingenious, and barbaric enemy, two of our greatest cities violated. We demanded the world’s tears, and, overwhelmingly, we received them. They were, we felt, no less than our due, no more than our merit. In the days after the trade center collapsed, even the Parisian daily Le Monde, not known for its pro-Yankee sentimentality, informed its readers, in an echo of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, that “we are all Americans now.” (emphasis mine)
The word demanded is what makes me nervous here. Or, rather, it is what is unsettling true here. When Abramsky America was just doing what needed to be done when
routing out the Taliban in Afghanistan, in reorienting its foreign policy to try and tackle international terror networks and breeding grounds
I find myself as in doubt as the Arabs, Maghrebi, Africans, Slavs, and the unwashed Europeans. The personal profitability of everything that has been done so far in these military actions; the carelessness and inefficiency of the system; and even the outright lies in claiming a connection between the Iraqi Hussein regime and the Taliban, all belie the claims that America’s military actions abroad have been all directed at The Good.
Abramsky worries that the American dream has tarnished, or perhaps died. I think, in fact, it’s just been replaced by a more realistic understanding that America’s not some mystical fantasy-land of equality and freedomwhich anyway it never really was. It was a damned sight better place to live than many places, but then a good handful of those places were rendered hellish by America, indirectly or even directly.
This is where the Chomskyites can trot out the case histories. I figure those who wanted to know already have read about the many examples, and those who don’t will not bother to read my regurgitation of examples.
In any case, I don’t think losing the lie which is The American Dream will hurt the world all that much. Perhaps the distaste will be good for all of those other countries, urging their brightest elites to stay and develop their country instead of escaping to the land of personal riches.
(Not to castigate emigres, of course. I am one, though I make about the same income now as I did in Canada. I don’t think I count as part of a Canadian “brain drain”, anyway. I seriously doubt anyone would see my living in Korea as gainful to myself in a way that somehow robs Canada of anything.)
Anyway, the tarnishing of the Dream was, I suspect, inevitable given the shady parts of the American Century. However, I think if America got itself together soon, maybe the rest of the world’s antipathy might dissolve into distaste or even a neutral stance.
One could hope.