Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Trump's America Increasingly isolated, and are Americans Exceptionally Stupid?

A Dutch friend just sent me an article by Mars van Grunsven in De Groene Amsterdammer (Make America Exceptional Again).

Its main thesis is that America is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, and that Trump is speeding up this process. It also discusses, as so many have done in the past, the presumptuous belief of many Americans in “American exceptionalism.”

My comments:

1. Isolation? The assertion that America is increasingly isolated implies a dichotomous view of the world: America vs. the rest of the world. But this is nonsense. America is just one out of a couple of hundred countries, some friendly, some hostile, some indifferent. America may enter into new sorts of alliances, with nefarious dictators such as the Philippines’ president Duterte. It is best to see America as a primus inter pares, in the near future maybe secundus or even tertius...just one of the world’s relatively large countries, also a flawed country, as many other countries are. So, not all that exceptional.

2. The Future? If a small country like North Korea can insulate itself and persist in its insane ways for many decades, surely a huge place like America will be able to continue its idiosyncratic culture indefinitely (its attitudes towards guns, sex, race, the economy, science, religion, the environment and everything else).

3. “Exceptionalism:” Is America exceptional? My answer: Yes; and so are Holland, France, Nepal, Nicaragua, Zambia and all other countries.

More seriously: Does America have some cultural attitudes and beliefs that are exceptionally aberrant?
Most societies do. There are plenty of countries with idiosyncratic, aberrant and simply WRONG beliefs, laws and practices - the Philippines, Venezuela, Russia, Zimbabwe, Albania, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico, Honduras, China, Nepal, Belarus, probably a majority of the world, certainly a majority of the Third World and the Second World (the former Soviet orbit).

America’s aberrant beliefs and practices would not receive so much attention if it weren’t for the fact that it is a huge and influential country. It is America’s misfortune to be large: whatever idiocy happens here is noticed everywhere.

But is it reasonable to compare America with the Third and the Second world? Should we not be held to the higher standards of the Western World, especially since America often claims the moral leadership of the planet?

I admit that in comparison with the few dozen countries that make up the “advanced” part of the world, there is a relatively large proportion of Americans who believe the wrong things - superstitions, rumors, conspiracies, discarded theories.

My explanation:

What makes the American people unique is a combination of TWO facts:
(A) Like the citizens of many other countries, huge swaths of Americans are misguided. They believe things which are not so. For example, many Americans  believe that more guns make us safer, that imprisoning millions of non-violent offenders reduces crime, that the world is NOT becoming warmer as a result of industrialization, that government intervention in the economy damages it, that policemen who murder civilians, (a disproportionate number of them black), are morally and legally right, that creationism “(“intelligent design”) and evolutionism are equally plausible, that sacred human life begins at conception, etc.

(B) America is very large and isolated. Most Americans who believe things which are not so, are surrounded by others who agree with them. They can safely continue to believe what they believe, because everyone else also believes the same things.

But the thing is: All countries contain many people who believe falsehoods. Think of Middle Eastern and Asian theocracies, African countries which execute gays, Russian and other Eastern European countries’ belief that cheating is the proper thing to do, the vast majority of the world’s belief in male superiority, etc. But yes, in comparison with many Western countries, a large segment of the American population subscribes to an inordinate amount of nonsense. In this vast country of 330 million people, there are multitudes whose beliefs are never challenged by their neighbors, their states, or by their media of choice.

Finally this (what follows are Madeleine Kando's main points after she read the same Dutch article):

We hope that the Trump presidency does not bring back Europe’s favorite pastime - anti-Americanism. Europeans need to remember that:

(1) A majority of Americans are vehemently opposed to Trump.

(2) The trend towards authoritarianism and xenophobia is global, ranging from the Philippines and Venezuela to Russia, Hungary, and Western Europe (Wilders, Le Pen, Brexit, etc.).

(3) America may have slightly more violent crime than Europe (although it is down by 60% over the past 30 years), but Europe has more terrorism and more property crime.

(4) American news media are both the worst (Fox News) and the best (the New York Times, NPR, etc.) in the world.

(5) There is already a vast social health insurance system in America for everyone over 65. It’s called Medicare. And it damn well better be part of the reform which will eventually come to pass.

(6) There is no more diverse and vibrant culture in the world. Hollywood is heavily influenced by foreign cinema.

(7) since 1945, the world has enjoyed the longest period of relative peace, prosperity and progress in history. American leadership had probably more to do with this than Dutch leadership.

In other words, give us a break, Van Grunsven. Try to be a bit more “fair and balanced” (unlike the idiots at Fox News who coined this slogan).  leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved