Anti-anti-Americanism

22:02, Apr 09 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.

A 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?

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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.  

Now, 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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