Anti-anti-Americanism

Last updated 10:02 10/04/2012

I've been at this blog-writing thing for a while now. Not too long, but long enough to be able to spot recurring trends and attitudes.

From day one, I've noticed a fairly small but consistent anti-American fringe in the comments of Voyages in America. I've chosen not to engage, because I think anti-Americanism is boneheaded.

In brief: I don't support the governments of Syria or Iran, but I have no doubt in my mind that each country would be full of rich culture, generous people and beautiful landscapes.

USA aA remark among the responses to my recent post about dual citizenship stuck in my craw somewhat. "It's not a place I'd want to be associated with," someone wrote about America.

Suddenly, I found myself biting. My default thing for the next few days became thinking about this remark.

Why would I not want to be associated with America? Why on Earth not? Are there people out there who would actually stand by such a comment?

America is a (just "a", not "the"...) scientific, academic and cultural epicentre of our world.

It's strange to even begin to justify this notion. It's so evident.

In my current home state alone, which incorporates maybe 2 per cent of the American population, science and technology hurtles forward. Last year in Boston, someone performed the first completely successful face transplant.

There's so much to like here. The frantic metropolis of New York; the sprawling zen of Los Angeles; the elegant classicism of Washington DC; the almost unabated liberalism of San Francisco; the beauty of the entire New England region; the smalltown parochialism and patter of rural Montana.    

And I've explored just a tiny fraction of this place. I haven't even travelled to the South, or been to Chicago, or seen the Grand Canyon, and there're so many other things I'm excited to get to.

The people are almost all genial, curious and intelligent. On a per capita basis, Americans are more philanthropic than any other nation.

It's a population of people responsible for a large proportion of everything you listen to, watch and laugh at.

And there's also a president here who sings Al Green songs on the campaign trail, and has a good answer for who his favourite character on The Wire is, which beats hands down the awkward Elizabeth Hurley and Johnny English worship that comes out of our own PM in his own casual moments.  

USA bNow, I get where anti-Americanism comes from, though. That same, suave, Al Green-singing president has also instituted policies that sanction the assassination of American citizens, imprisoned more whistleblowers than any other president in history put together, and invokes the phrase "state secrets" like magic beans to avoid legal accountability for the state's actions.

There was the whole WMD snafu, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rampant corporate greed that almost derailed the global financial system.

And then there's also the propensity for redneck media commentators and political idiots to attain visibility and wealth.

I get it, but you're wrong.

You're engaging in anti-Americanism, without engaging with America.

America is a cobbled together union of states that entered into this amalgamation in different ways: some organically, some through America's slow creep west, and some, such as Texas and California,  purchased or won in a border dispute.

It's a big, odd tent in here. America is like a weird party you show up to, and there's quite a few people there and you know them all, but they don't really fit together, and then you find out that somehow they're all blood-related.

What's more, the moving parts of the country are all given supposed autonomy from control by a main national government, and it's all directed by a 235-year-old piece of paper that is held in higher regard than a Bible. 

And so you have 300 million-plus people here, spread across the path of a seven-hour flight, all groaning their way to a supposed common goal.

In this light, I forgive the politics and the discourse here and the way two sides are turned in on themselves to essentially grind societal progress to a halt. The size and spread of America makes it easy for opportunists to factionalise it. It's easy for Rick Santorum to use Massachusetts as a dirty word in tarring Mitt Romney to a Midwestern audience, because a lot of those people in his audience wouldn't have been to New England. For similar reasons, it's easy for liberal polemic and discussion to turn on, and condescend to, the South.

A lot of America's problems come out of this, in my eyes. It's a lot easier place for someone to divide than unite.

If you take the 10 largest countries in the world, America has maybe the best-functioning democratic system of any of them. But within this, America is hugely susceptible to special interests because the market size and freedoms offered in the US allow a company to grow to rival a government in power. Corporate interests are usually selfish. This doesn't work for a broad population. But what's the alternative?

I was discussing politics with Tim Wilson in our recent chat, and he said something that stuck with me. America doesn't always use its power in the best way, and can get caught doing some silly things, but in the sum of all that it does, it means well... even if it aggressively means well. 

I don't excuse a lot of what of the government does. And I get mad from time to time.

But do I have to excuse it? I don't feel that the government defines Americans here, more than John Key defines you.

And what are we, perfect?

Our prime minister raided a major newspaper in response to an inadvertently recorded conversation, which was of little consequence anyway. We have our own special interests and lobby groups, who might not be as corrosive, but there's just less in New Zealand to corrode in the first place.

America is more relied upon, and more pivotal, than any other nation. Sure, they're struggling at the moment, but they still operate under the weight of tremendous accountability and responsibility. Who'd want to be America? They are the first to be called to act, and the first to be publicly decried.

The use of American as both adjective and put-down bores me. It's tremendously narrow minded, and lacking in intelligence.

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175 comments
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Synick   #1   10:08 am Apr 10 2012

So the propaganda has finally sunk in to you huh?

"best-functioning democratic system" I question that, any country run by wall street can hardly be called democratic

Henry Cooke   #2   10:09 am Apr 10 2012

So much agreement. As a general left leaning person many of my friends get on their "I hate America and everything about it" horse regularly. It's such a ridiculously large place to judge at once - that would be like judging all of Europe by Greece or something. I disagree with the politics comment a little - I think their system of checks and balances goes a little bit too far, and their attitude to fundraising is just plain scary - there was a sweet This American Life podcast on it not long ago, really really wrong.

Ken   #3   10:13 am Apr 10 2012

The good old USA do as I say not as I do. The US economy is stuffed, they try to influence other countries policies, yet are unable to sort out their own. Most of the worlds conflicts are due to US not being able to keep their nose out of other peoples affairs.MMMM so why are people anti Americia??

Nancy   #4   10:15 am Apr 10 2012

Whilst there is a culture of hatred for America, its mostly directed towards the politics of the place, not the people or the natural beauty. Well at least it used to be. The problem now is that Americans are hating on EACH other in country and that kind of divisiveness is not a good look.

There was a time when it was very much an American thing to speak out against what you didn't like, a priviledge of sorts to be able to think and speak your mind. That has been lost in the post 9/11 world.

So if you think that ex pats speaking out is anti-Americanism, you would be wrong. We are just exercising a right long lost to our fellow countrymen who still live there.

NZSounds   #5   10:19 am Apr 10 2012

What about the guns, James? Nowhere else in the world does the "right" to possess and carry a lethal weapon bring about such devastating consequences. As I write this, there are two fatal shooting rampages currently under investigation in two different US states. Nowhere else in the world can you get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the street. And need I mention Trayvon? What kind of insane law allows self-appointed vigilantes to pursue a teenager and gun him down? What kind of insanity allows people to carry loaded guns in bars, or even in church? What kind if insanity leads to the notion that the more people carry guns, the safer they all are? And what other country has a gun lobby so powerful that carrying semi-automatic assault weapons is considered a constituional right? America: too many crazy people, too many guns, too many crazy people with guns. You like living there - fine. Personally I'm glad I live a long way from there and have no intention of ever setting foot there again. Best of luck, and hope you hear the shooting so you can avoid it in time.

James   #6   10:20 am Apr 10 2012

I have to both agree and disagree with you. America is a great democracy and great things come out of it. But unfortunately it is also very insular and capable of great evil (even if accidentally). Having grown up in the Middle-East I cannot comprehend how it can possibly justify its foreign policy decisions that have resulted in the deaths of many innocent people due to its continued support for an aggressive, expansionist, apartheid regime. I also totally disagree with the continued cultural colonialism throughout the world (again, even if unintended by the government). There are many great things about the US but these need to be weighed against the bad. For me the weight falls too greatly on the bad. It doesn't, however, mean that there is anything wrong with the people of the country though as a people cannot and should not be judged by the actions of a government that represents them.

Thomoltuous   #7   10:25 am Apr 10 2012

wow - well put! Thank you for this! Enjoyed the read!

RCR   #8   10:28 am Apr 10 2012

Having spent a good deal of time in a number of places in the US I have to say I think you're spot on! Couldn't have said it better myself.

Brett Dale   #9   10:39 am Apr 10 2012

Brilliant blog piece once again, I pretty sure you might receive some negative comments because of it. People here tend to still have a chip on their shoulder about the USA.

I have family in the states and have been lucky enough to visit eight times, I found the country and the people to be one of the warmest and friendliest there is.

Grant S   #10   10:41 am Apr 10 2012

As a New Zealander who now calls America home, I think that you have hit the nail fair and squarely on the head with this piece. Well done!


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