Anthem: America the Ugly?
January 14, 2003
There is a considerable disconnect today between the view
Americans have of themselves and the view expressed by others
around the world. A recent Pew Research poll found widespread
world disgruntlement with the US government and its actions
in the world. However, according to a number of sources, from
Robert Fisk of the UK's Independent newspaper to other writers,
such as Naomi Klein of Canada and Mark Hertsgaard in his book,
The Eagle's Shadow, the rest of the world isn't at
odds with the people of the US - they're upset with
the US government. The two are demonstrably different. Most
ordinary people around the world don't find ordinary Americans
wholly objectionable. Very often, the perception by others
of American citizens is that they are occasionally gauche,
but still, engaging, open and, almost to a fault, individually
By contrast, people around the world are enormously suspicious
of the US government. Easy to understand, because the US government
has treated the rest of the world's population with either
suspicion, outright contempt or as a ready market to be exploited.
Moreover, that general hostility toward the US has blossomed
in the last two years, because the Bush administration has
been the sine qua non exemplar of everything that's
been wrong with US government policy since WWII.
It is as if Bush and his gang have taken every bad policy
imaginable and etched them in stone and made them manifest
destiny on the daily news.
So, why then the general popularity of this administration
by ordinary Americans? Certainly, some of that popularity
stems from the general solidarity of the people in Bush's
undeclared "war" on terrorism - after all, nationalism is
one of the easiest emotions to evoke in one's countrymen -
and, a much smaller percentage of the population likes his
approach to policy. Of equal certainty is the effect of the
media cheerleading which has been underway since Bush was
campaigning for his current chairmanship of the board of the
Those not voting for Bush, i.e., Democrats, Greens, Palestinians,
Iraqis, Germans, Britons, Venezuelans, etc., aren't much impressed
by either US nationalism or US news for internal consumption.
In much of the rest of the world, Bush and company are archetypes
of the Ugly American - strutting, arrogant, ignorant, self-impressed
and greedy beyond imagination. This administration is giving
ordinary Americans a bad name, a very bad name, indeed.
What's more confounding, it seems, is the unwillingness of
the Bush administration to collectively look back at history,
recent and ancient, or to look forward to the future they
may create through current policy. First off, our only ally
in upcoming adventures in the Middle East, Great Britain,
may fall back into conservative hands because its current
leader, Tony Blair, has been bitten by the Bush bug, and may
die from the disease.
Notwithstanding current New Labour Party proposals there
to privatize a health care system destroyed by the Thatcherites,
the Thatcherites will seize any opportunity to regain power,
and opposition to war in Iraq may be one of those opportunities.
Ordinary Britons have been, collectively, one of bigger European
groups to point out, in very large public demonstrations,
the gaping rents in the Bush-Blair war uniform. No skin off
Bush's nose if Great Britain goes conservative, but woe to
ordinary Britons if some future PM in drag begins dredging
up all the failed policies of Margaret Thatcher, because Tony
Blair won the Iraq battle, and lost the UK election war.
Second, while it's bad enough that the available list of
hijackers responsible for 9/11 all had Arabic names, Bush
policy has singled out the Palestinians as the casus belli
in the Israel-Palestine intifada. The rest of the world knows
better, but Americans still persist in the belief that, because
the US has designated Israel as our principal ally in the
Middle East, Bush's policy to defend Sharon and the Likud
Party is right and proper. This policy has, improperly, furthered
the intifada. Moreover, it has alienated much of the Muslim
world. Even our purported allies, such as Egypt, have been
quietly trying to persuade the Bushies to pay attention to
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to help put an end to what
is now an egregiously excessive show of superior force by
Sharon against the Palestinians (as recently as January 9th
EST, three children, of ages varying from sixteen to twelve,
were shot by Israeli forces for throwing stones at tanks;
two were seriously injured, one died of his injuries later).
The rest of the world knows that "no child left behind" does
not apply to their children.
The rest of world knows that Sharon is a butcher. If Bush
supports Sharon, that means, to the rest of world, that Bush
favors butchery, if it suits his notions of furthering US
policy. The rest of the world is wondering when the US will
withdraw support for Sharon and his assault on an occupied
people. The rest of the world knows that suicide bombings
on behalf of Palestinians are an act of desperation. Every
Israeli attack on the Palestinians, whether to exact revenge
or to intimidate, will be magnified in the Arab street as
overt US support for oppression.
Third, around the world, governments and peoples see current
US policy as protecting the interests of its multinational
corporations in every way possible through the stacked deck
of trade agreements. What is seen in this country as "free
trade" is viewed elsewhere as economic extortion. War in Iraq
is touted by the Bushies as a means of "liberating" the Iraqis,
and yet, the ordinary inhabitants of places such as Myanmar
are left to live under the most oppressive of dictatorships.
The rest of the world understands that Iraq's resources imply
money to be made for US corporations. Now that slave labor
has already built much of the pipeline in Myanmar necessary
to supply profits to US multinationals, there's no need to
demand a "regime change" there, or to return Myanmar to democracy.
The rest of the world understands that the underlying logic
of the US in such matters is transparent - military might
is to be used, principally, for either corporate gain or for
internal political mileage.
Where the reasons for military might are either obtusely
inappropriate or politically damaging, one-sided trade agreements
are employed. US tax law actually encourages the flight of
manufacturing from the US to the Third World, while exploitation
of workers there is tolerated, even in US territories such
as Saipan, by members of Congress such as Tom Delay (R-Texas),
a strong proponent of laissez-faire economics in such far-flung
Last, there is an increasing intolerance by the rest of the
world for the United States' paternalistic governmental invocation
of its interpretation of democracy as being right for the
world. Despite the protestations from right-wing politicians
in this country that "free markets" are the instruments, the
end-all and be-all, of democracy in action, the rest of the
world is not amused. They know better. The United States is
the only country in the group of industrialized nations without
universal health care. It is the only country in that group
with 1/8th of its population continually and endemically in
poverty. In that group of nations, it has the greatest disparity
in wealth between rich and poor. It is the only country in
that group in which educational policy and textbook selection
at the elementary-secondary level is subject to the policy
ambitions of the religious right-wing; further, no other industrialized
nation in the world has abandoned trade education at the secondary
level to the degree which has the US.
And, there's no point in discussing the hypocrisy inherent
in the Bush administration's attitude toward international
treaties when they don't conform to the neo-conservative model.
Our democratic model, with regard to representation of minority
interests, is deficient in many ways to the parliamentary
processes in Europe (all the while, top representatives of
US government denigrate the European model as ancient and
ineffective - Condoleezza Rice, Bush's National Security advisor,
has described Europe as "the road-kill of history"). The rest
of the world knows that the United States model of democracy
is not what it is advertised to be, not for its own people,
and not for the rest of the world.
Still, the people of the world know that ordinary Americans
are not entirely to blame for their government's actions and
general rudeness with the ascent of the right-wing again in
this country. In those countries where the Peace Corps operates,
people are grateful for the help of those American volunteers.
In the Israel-occupied territories of Palestine, ordinary
Palestinians repeatedly give profuse thanks for the presence
of UN workers and international observers, some of whom are
Americans. Americans seeking the common causes of justice,
human rights and economic independence for indigenous peoples
are welcome everywhere in the world and embraced by virtually
everyone. Our armies and our corporations are not.
At home, many of us fear that our government and the corporations
it protects have subverted our own essential precepts of democracy.
The rest of the world's people notice this, too, in the way
our government treats them and their nations. The rest of
the world will tolerate the Bush government excesses, and
will continue to respect the ordinary American, until we fix
that problem, using the only tool we have to do so - democracy,
as defined in our own Constitution. If we don't do that, the
rest of the world will come to see us all as part of the world's
problem, rather than part of the solution to its problems.
Right now, the world is of the opinion that George W. Bush
is the "ugly American." In the future, without our demand
for internal political change, we will all be seen in Bush's
image by the rest of world, because we could have done the
right thing, and didn't.
We will all be ugly Americans. Prejudice will build against
us all, worldwide, despite the tendency today on the part
of other citizens of the world to allow that we who know that
things are going desperately wrong in our country are as much
victims of right-wing policies as they. Eventually, if we
do not have the will to vote out our own breed of fascists,
we will all come to be seen as fascists, and our glib pronouncements
about "democracy" will be meaningless. We may have to get
used to singing a new national anthem, and soon.
punpirate is a New Mexico writer who definitely doesn't
want to be judged by George W. Bush's image - that's a genuine
violation of the equal protection clause.