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A New Anthem: America the Ugly?
January 14, 2003
By punpirate

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 generous.

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 United States.

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 places.

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.

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