As the World Watches US Election, the Appeal of America is Diminished

Jerri-Lynn here. And they say that as if it’s such a bad thing. Seriously, though, the election has made the defects of which many of those in the U.S. have long been aware apparent across the world.

There’s more than a touch of TDS to this screed, and I am conscious of how the mainstream media – and Democrats – never gave Trump a break. A fact of which my sister the Trump 2016 voter often makes me aware. So that perceptions of his deficiencies were transmitted, unchallenged, around the world. Yet still, there is much to ponder in this post,

By Liam Kennedy, Professor of American Studies, University College Dublin. Originally published at The Conversation.

A US presidential election always draws intense worldwide interest, in part due to the spectacle, but also because the leadership of the most powerful country in the world has a significant bearing on international affairs. It is also a moment of immense cultural power which magnifies America’s global significance.

While political leaders and policy experts will watch the election through the prism of their strategic interests, most of the world will watch with a more nebulous sense that the fate of the world is somehow at stake. For better or worse, around the globe people tend to view the US through the figure of its president. This is certainly the case with Donald Trump, whose global celebrity has amplified feelings about the US.

The 2020 election symbolically aligns with a paradigm shift in the world order, a disassembling of western and more particularly American dominance. What is at stake here is the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation, an idea that forcefully shaped “the American Century” and is now fast dissolving.

Global perceptions of the US are regularly monitored by major polling organisations such as the Pew Research Center and Gallup. There are also myriad regional and national polls seeking information on the US’s reputation and influence. By almost all quantitative measures the US’s global standing has plummeted since the election of Trump and this downward spiral is more often than not associated with his leadership.

A Pew study in September 2020 noted that the number of countries with a favourable view of the US is “as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.” The survey showed ratings of “confidence in the US president” ranging from a low of 9% in Belgium to a high of 25% in Japan.

Several international polls link the decline in confidence in American leadership to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, both nationally and internationally. Measuring such perceptions quantitatively has much room for error, but it’s hard to deny that the scale and consistency of these polls are indicators of the US’s maligned and depleted image and influence in the world today.

That sense of diminishing American appeal is evident not only in the polling but also in global media coverage of the US. This is hardly surprising given the images of domestic turmoil that travel swiftly in real time: scenes of overworked healthcare workers, of mass demonstrations over the police killings of African-Americans, of armed vigilantes challenging pandemic orders, and of wildfires raging in California.

The first presidential debate provoked shock and dismay in international news media. It was described as a “chaotic and virulent spectacle” (El Pais in Spain), as “mudwrestling” (The Times of India), as “a joke, a low point, a shame for the country”(Der Spiegel in Germany), as a “national humiliation for America” (The Guardian in the UK), and as evidence of the “recession of US influence, national power” (Global Times in China).

Since 2016, the European media has reported on a widespread and increasing sense of European disillusionment with the US, centred on Trump but also pointing to an acceleration of American decline. Writing in the Irish Times in April, Fintan O’Toole observed:

It is hard not to feel sorry for Americans … The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times made a similar observation in October, writing that “European attitudes to Americans are shifting from envy to compassion.”

The End of the American Century

Underlying this shift in global, and especially western, perceptions of the US is a deep but barely coherent disinvestment in the fantasy of “America” as a liberal and redemptive power, one that acts on behalf of a global common good. This has endured for many national political and popular cultures since the end of the second world war and until recently has been stoked by American soft power and popular culture. It is a fantasy that dramatises and idealises American narratives – the stock example being “the American Dream” – and makes “America” a screen for global desires and discontents.

The US has long functioned as a global mirror with many nations viewing it as the epitome of modernity and measuring their “progress” against that imagery. Fascination and contempt are bound together in this fantasy. It is dependent on what is known but cannot be acknowledged: a fear of and desire for American power. It provides other nations with the balm of calling out US hypocrisy in the misuse of its powers, hypocrisy which is often measured in the distance between American soft power rhetoric and hard power actions.

The US once fed the fantasy with confidence. When the magazine publisher Henry Luce published his famous essay The American Century in 1941, on the eve of the US entry into the second world war, he provided a mission statement of American exceptionalism. The essay expressed a vision of US political, economic and cultural power, of a pre-eminent US that would lead the postwar world by its example in advancing democratic ideals, free enterprise and “the American way of life”. It was a compelling vision of American hegemony that joined nationalism and internationalism in the interests of global leadership.

The fantasy is now fast unravelling as the American Century comes to an end. This has tallied not with the 20th century but more pointedly with the period between the start of the Cold War and the current implosion of the liberal world order. In recent years the relative decline of the US has been much remarked upon as a “post-American world” emerges, and nationalism, particularly an “America First” agenda, has displaced internationalism in American foreign policy.

Cultural Power

Much international polling and commentary in recent years suggests that the US is losing its power to communicate, and is no longer seen as a cultural or political beacon. The common measurement of this is the claim that American soft power, understood as the power to attract rather than coerce, has been greatly reduced, not least because Trump and his administration eschew it as irrelevant to the promotion of “America First”.

While American liberals fret at the loss of America’s global cultural appeal in terms of soft power, they cling to a crude conception of the way cultural processes work and the impact they have. Cultural power takes many forms and the US continues to provide cultural and political influence across the world, though not necessarily shaped by the office of the president or the diplomacy of the State Department. A recent example is the global impact of the protests for racial justice and the international spread of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Throughout June 2020, people took the streets across the world in response to the protests in the US sparked by the death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in policy custody. Expressions of solidarity were the most common feature of the protests, but they also invariably connected with and expressed local matters of racial division and injustice. As they mutated across borders, the protests triggered activism and debates on police violence, racial profiling, the detention of asylum seekers and the removal of monuments.

These protests and conversations indicate the symbolic resonance of the American civil rights struggle across the world. A national reckoning with race in the US may go some way to restoring the country’s self-image and standing in the world.

Tipping Point

The world should not underestimate America’s capacity for renewal, but nor should it underestimate its capacity for self-delusion and for packaging this belief in American exceptionalism as something to sell to the rest of the world. In short, the death of the fantasy of America as a liberal and redemptive power is not necessarily a bad thing – and the election of Joe Biden as president would be unlikely to renew it.

A reality check on American power, including its cultural power, is overdue. This entails taking stock of the ways in which the US has fomented a cultural backlash both against liberal democracy at home and the liberal world order abroad. That backlash – put crudely, the people against the elites – resonates with ethno-nationalist and populist politics across the world.

With the waning of liberal democracy we are at a cultural tipping point in the west where opponents do not neatly line up as left versus right and where politics is increasingly defined by cultural values. Part of the significance of the 2020 US election as a global cultural moment is its dramatisation of this tipping point, posed between the insurgent forces of nationalism and the residual forces of liberalism.

The world will be watching, less in fascination than in bemusement and commiseration.



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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think its certainly true that Trump has done terrible damage to the US’s image abroad, in particular its reputation for competence, but I think the issues go deeper than that. Certainly back to the Iraq war invasion. It should also be remembered that while Obama was deliriously popular in Europe, in many other parts of the world he was seen as weak and a waffler, especially in China. In many respects, Trump (at least initially) was seen as a ‘real leader’ in a way Obama was not. He was, and is, wildly popular in right wing circles in places like South Korea and the Philippines.

    The flip side is that there has also been a surge in self confidence in much of Asia, and thats as much down to European mishandling of Covid as anything else. We may see 2020 as a decisive year in Asias dominance of world politics and economics. In China, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan its been widely noticed how their institutions have dealt with Covid much better than anywhere significant in the West (NZ really doesn’t count). What this means I think is that those countries are no longer looking over their shoulders at what the US, or Europe for that matter, is doing and will be doubling down on their focus on their old enemies, their immediate neighbours.

    Of more significance I think is the flow of students and money. US universities have always been seen as the only place to go for ambitious Asians or South Americans, with top European ones a close second. Apart from the money aspect, the millions of people who have studied in the US has long been a source of soft power and influence for the US and the UK in particular. I strongly suspect this has been fatally wounded as a source of power and influence and money. There has also been a noticeable opening up of China for foreign inflows of investment cash – while this may be short term opportunism, it may also be that small time investors around the world no longer see a house in California or New York (or London for that matter) as the best way of hedging their savings. The US in particular (the UK too) is increasingly been seen as slipping into the category of ‘high risk’ or at least ‘higher risk than it was before’.

    Of course, its easy to read too much into short term impacts. I recall reading a history of Japanese development which quoted numerous Japanese gurus in the 1980 as talking about Europe being little more than ‘a nice place to go on holiday’ for Japanese business people and not a serious competitor, and the US as being easy meat for Japanese investors. The US (and Europe) has surged back from setbacks in the past. Only time will tell as to whether the rot now is really permanent.

    1. bad-egg

      The rot goes too deep for the country is not only fiscally bankrupt but morally too, and when it reach’s that state it become terminal or as they say stick it with a fork its done,!!!!

    2. arte

      Personally, if I still remember it right, by the 1990s I was already very cynical about some things (financial bailouts etc). However, the Bush reelection after Abu Ghraib, and the lack of any torture related prosecutions, was extremely disillusioning for this European. The first couple of Obama years and the sudden silence of the popular Democrat blogs about the ongoing foreign wars was even more so.

      1. Heruntergekommen Sein

        The irony is that the first US black site was inherited outside of Oberursel, Germany, first known as Camp Sibert, then Camp King, immediately after the Second World War. The US War Department’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS-Y) discovered the Germans had converted an agriculture school promoting communal living, and the agriculture implements became torture instruments for British airmen, dubbed “Die Ziegenfarm”. The Goat Farm. Many of the Third Reich’s top leaders were surreptitiously imprisoned and questioned here outside of the larger strategic interrogation effort, presumably by the OSS. It was here that MK/Ultra program was born to interrogate defectors from Warsaw Pact countries.

        One can imagine the first time Americans were turned on to Acid / LSD as an exotic method of the Germans was while living and working in the Oberursel communes as early as 1946. (The British perhaps were turned on and tuned out under far less genteel circumstances as prisoners.) The first proto-hippies might of actually been de-mobbed intelligence officers who interviewed too many NatSoc’s and learned too much, saw too much of the camps. However, US interest in physical torture techniques only began after Korean War POW’s were subjected to Chinese PLA methods. US techniques were straight out of the PLA manuals. Not that absolves any guilt. – Point is Europe did nothing to hold torturers liable either, not the SD, not the Staasi, not the Vichy Milice Française. Or even the Tigers associated with Belgrade’s FK Obilic. Nobody is innocent. Period. Cruelty is innate to human behavior; it is to cope with what is hazardous to our empathy.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I don’t know about others but a big change came for me with Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. No, I am not only talking about the catastrophic mismanagement of rescue efforts and the failure of preparation in the first place. Those who had money fled the city which left the poorest people to deal with that Hurricane. Afterwards the first film footage started coming out of New Orleans and looking at it, you were not sure if it came from America or if it came from some place like Haiti. It was really hard to tell the difference. I thought that it was just me but I have read the same sentiment from other people from different countries over the past fifteen years. People at the time started calling it Third World America as those people had been left behind not only physically but economically, socially and in every other significant way.

    1. carl

      That’s when it started for me as well, when I realized that nothing much would be done to repair the city except privatizing the school system. Really, though, I think that the loss of internal legitimacy is much more important than what the rest of the world thinks of the US, and COVID has increased that geometrically, if not exponentially.

      1. IdahoSpud

        You are missing the bigger picture. Also I happen to agree with the Archdruid, who notices that things have long been sliding almost imperceptibly into ruin. It’s all going to plan, and Trump has little to do with that, other than a symptom of discontent with the normal rot.

        “And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…

        So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.”

        Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – 1971

        1. carl

          Oh, I don’t disagree with you; it’s been going on a lot longer than 2005. Most of my life, in fact, but for me Katrina was an eye-opening event. At the time, I also happened to be having my first extended visit to a US hospital because of an unruly appendix, and so that was the beginning of my radicalization regarding US healthcare.
          See my comment below on Greer.

      2. Sue inSoCal

        Indeed, the poorest survivors of Katrina were placed in stadiums (or stadia if you prefer) like cattle and labeled “refugees.” They were then relocated all over the states. It’s gone straight to hell since then, although it wasn’t ducky before that. There’s been no even pretending to assist for the common welfare, much less anything resembling the equal pursuit of happiness. I’ll leave it at that.

    2. Arizona Slim

      I was a post-Katrina reconstruction volunteer in Mississippi during 2006-08.

      To put it mildly, it was a traumatizing experience. It was hard to believe that, in the United States of America, our fellow citizens had been left to their own devices. Which included having to live in — or right next to — ruined homes for years.

  3. David

    This is a much more complicated question than it may seem, and much more complex than the authors of this piece realise. In particular, there is a sharp division between what the international PMC thinks of the US, and what the rest of the population think. For that large percentage, the image of the US is made up of endless cheap imported TV series, Hollywood films, perhaps a trip to Disneyland, and fashions and trends in popular culture driven by the size of the American market. The issues mentioned here like “images of domestic turmoil that travel swiftly in real time: scenes of overworked healthcare workers, of mass demonstrations over the police killings of African-Americans, of armed vigilantes challenging pandemic orders, and of wildfires raging in California”, would have passed the overwhelming majority of ordinary people by. Perhaps 5% of the population even of European countries would even be aware of any of them. (I vaguely remember reading here that there were wildfires in California, but isn’t that the case every year?) Popular dislike of the US isn’t based on these sorts of factors, but on cultural imperialism, misused economic power and a sense that many countries in the world are losing their individuality, their history and even their language to a foreign country.

    But I don’t think the authors are worried about that. What they are worried about is that the US’s previously unchallenged dominance as the International HQ of the international PMC is starting to fray.The US was the “leader” of parts of the world in the same sense that Al Capone was the leader of organised crime in Chicago. In my own experience, nobody ever said, “let’s see what the Americans think about this – they are always wise and well informed.” It’s rather “I suppose there’s no way we can keep the Americans out of this is there, given that they know nothing about the problem?” And once a problem of any kind disappears into Washington, the rest of the world can do little to influence how it comes out. For several generations, western, Japanese and other elites made a devil’s bargain with the US that they would back Washington on nearly everything, in return for their support, if necessary against their own people. It was hard, if not impossible, for a politician to make a career at national level if the US didn’t like them. Whilst many states around the world learned to quietly manipulate the US, by being smarter and reacting faster, few were inclined to challenge them openly. And in spite of what was said for public consumption, few among international elites had any real admiration for the US going beyond simple power worship. (The US electoral system, and even the political system itself, have been regarded as a joke for a long time by most educated non-Americans).

    All this produced generations of frustration, anger and resentment, which could not easily be expressed in public. What we’re now seeing, I think, is just that it is becoming more acceptable (because Trump) to say things which in the past were only muttered under the breath.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, I think this is entirely right. There is a tendency – including on the anti-imperialistic left – to see everything through the lens of ‘what the US thinks’. In reality, the vast majority of countries go about their daily business only worrying about their direct neighbours. The US is generally seen as too big, too complex, and too far away, to worry about anything other than a source of entertaining movies. Pretty much everyone in the world would like to travel to the US, or study or work there for a while, but thats really just due to the universality of US media and culture and images. For most people, the US isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s just ‘there’. Even educated and well travelled people tend to be aware of the US only via the prism of their particular media/social circle. If you are vague to the left, you are happy if a Democrat wins, if you are vaguely to the right, you think Trump is a bit of a character, but at least he’s keeping the socialists out. Thats really all it comes down to.

      All that really matters is power – soft and hard. The US is still a gigantic economy and every sneeze impacts the world. But that is slowly (very slowly) changing, but not in any fundamental way. The soft power issue is harder to assess, but there is little doubt that since the Iraq War there has been a slow but steady erosion of that. And there is also military power – the US still has a military gigantically larger than anyone else, but as always, countries see its vulnerabilities and will exploit it when they can. I think the biggest indicator of a weakening US is the gradual trend in many countries, especially in the Western Pacific, to investing more in domestic and diverse sources of military hardware (and increasing overall spending) – that to me indicates that they all see a future when they have to fend for themselves, either against a neighbour or against China. In other words, they all see US wider power as having peaked and is going into gradual decline. Smaller countries see their future as not being under the US umbrella, but as performing a more delicate dance between different global and regional powers, with the US just one player among many (in other words, back to the 1930’s). But this trend has been going on for some years now and predates Trump.

      1. oliverks

        My best guess is the US will experience a rapid not gradual decline. Some trigger event will suddenly cause it to more or less collapse soviet style. It will then just vanish from the world stage with many expats fleeing to safer pastures.

        While a gradual decline would be nice, I wouldn’t count on it.

        1. hunkerdown

          Both is more likely than either one in isolation. Events would produce significant declines in indicators, followed by human efforts to restore capacity that fails to meet the losses, ad nauseam. Either one in isolation makes for more psychologically stabilizing narratives, to be sure, but material conditions reliably prevail over idealism.

        2. carl

          Smarter people than me (John Michael Greer, for one) have postulated a series of “stepdowns,” shocks followed by periods of stability, albeit at lower levels of complexity. Seen this way, collapse certainly is a gradual process, allowing for occasional precipitating events (2008 financial meltdown, followed by 10-12 years of stability, then COVID). Seems as good a model as any in terms of explanatory or predictive value.

        3. John Wright

          I believe the USA has been in a gradual decline for years and is managing, not by design, to lower the expectations of its population.

          Wages have been flat for 40+ years and the public infrastructure that everyone enjoyed has declined over the same period (at least in my view in California), which is a direct loss in quality of life.

          Then there is the high cost of medical care, housing and the higher education system, which results in a further decline in USA citizens’ material well-being that is not reflected in the headline median income.

          The emphasis on the FIRE economy will not serve America well as high cost American college degrees may be (or are proving) to have negative present value.

          Then there is the eventual forced USA re-tooling for climate change.

          I can’t imagine a renaissance under Biden-Harris, especially if they attempt regime changes around the world (via military actions or economic sanctions).

          But rapid decline is not something I foresee.

          1. oliverks

            I agree the US has been in decline for a long time. I am thinking there could be a significant non-linearity at some point between now and 2050. I lived in the US for 40 years, and when stuff goes wrong, it tends to go wrong badly.

          2. EMtz

            A long and steady decline before it reached the “enough” point for me. It started with pervasive disillusionment in US institutions during the Vietnam War. I watched discourse steadily coarsen since Nixonian times and the increasing levels of divisiveness clearly pointing to the end of the myth of “melting pot” – and with that any semblance of a cohesive POV essential for agreement on just about anything. The most recent nadir is the politicized hash made of a coherent response to something as basic as keeping people from suffering and dying from Covid.

            I left before Trump was elected. I’d thought about it for years. No regrets. Nowhere is paradise but it sure is good to be in a place where everyone doesn’t stridently hate each other and my taxes don’t funnel into an endless war machine.

      2. David

        The military equipment point is interesting and very tied up with sovereignty. If you buy US military equipment, the US has historically pressed countries to use the Foreign Military Sales system, administered by a special office for “co-operation” in the Pentagon. You get spares and support from a local US military base (there are plenty of them) rather than having to worry about them yourself. Which is fine, until you have a disagreement with the US and they decide to cut the spares off. That’s one reason why S Korea, for example, has been developing an indigenous arms industry for the last thirty years: it’s all about political independence.

        A classic example is the post-1994 South Africa. The new ANC government had to buy some naval ships and aircraft, and opted for a policy not only of rewarding countries that had helped the ANC (Sweden, for example) and shutting out those that hadn’t (France, for example), they also made a policy decision not to buy anything from the US. When Shrub was elected in 2000, and the US went round the globe trying to strong-arm nations into helping them destroy the International Criminal Court, they tried to put pressure on South Africa, threatening to withhold spares for their equipment. (Freedom) off, said the South Africans. We don’t use any of your equipment. Another piece of soft power down the drain.

      3. eg

        As a Canuck, the Americans ARE our direct neighbours. It would be difficult to overstate their influence.

        As Trudeau the elder quipped of the unease that proximity brings, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

  4. Rod

    The world is rightfully skeptical.
    But, at home also.

    “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”
    ― James L. Petigru

    Ballot rejections, Trump sign-stealing scandal sow distrust in SC county election
    Scientists said to buy cheaper, safer voter machines. SC spent $51M on these instead

    The loss of Face to Georgia and The NorthState is almost unbearable for me, but just intolerable to others, I guess.
    (they may try to charge but just ask to return to the homepage)

  5. Carolinian

    I made a couple of tours of Europe–quite a few years ago at this point–and my impression across the board was that they have never been that fond of us even while embracing much of our culture. The major exception would be the Irish who seemed to love Americans–perhaps because so many of them came here.

    Some of us think a transatlantic divorce may be long overdue in any case. The world will doubtless be better off without the “exceptional nation” pretense–Americans as well.

      1. bruce

        Well, we’ve had a special relationship with them ever since one of our Presidents, Ford iirc, got off his plane in Warsaw and greeted the crowd in Polish. What he meant to say was “I love the Polish people.” What came out was “I want to have carnal knowledge of Polish people.” I’m sure the Poles who were there remember it to this day, and that’s why when I get elected President and land in Warsaw, the native Polish speaker from our Poland desk is gonna do the talking for me.

  6. person

    I said it on the verge of Trump’s victory, and I will say it again. With regards to US’s influence around the global, Trump’s presidency willl have been great for America.

    This is not to say Trump is right or his policies are good for America. He is a mental moron and a wrecking ball to good governance.

    But for way too long, EU and Asian countries took too many of their policy cues from the US. Rather than standing up to America’s bad ideas, they quietly acquiesced. To some extent, foreign governments enable the so-called deep-state.

    Trump’s 2016 election should be a smack-in-the-face wakeup call to global leaders. That the virtuousness of America or the soundness of its foreign policies should never ever be taken for granted. And where previously they felt helpless to stand up to the US, now they can forever point to DJ Trump as a source of their resolve.

    And THAT is a good thing for America.

    1. km

      Trump’s 2016 election should be a smack-in-the-face wakeup call to global leaders. That the virtuousness of America or the soundness of its foreign policies should never ever be taken for granted. And where previously they felt helpless to stand up to the US, now they can forever point to DJ Trump as a source of their resolve.

      And THAT is a good thing for America.

      That is a good thing for the rest of the world.

      If Biden wins, expect a brief honeymoon, both in the US and abroad. Then it will become more than abundantly that Biden cannot fix the problems that the United States has, without offending one or more entrenched interests.

      At that point, we either get President Kamala (same policies, different skin color!) and/or a jolly little foreign war to get people to rally ’round the flag once more. When that goes sour, expect Team D and their surrogates to blame Trump.

  7. Sutter Cane

    Back before covid, I was a musician. I managed to tour pretty extensively in Europe in the 1990s-2010s. As a youth, I didn’t realize how completely I had been propagandized with “greatest country in the world!” indoctrination until I actually visited some other countries.

    When I first went to places like Germany, France, and the Netherlands in the late 90s, coming from a working class US background I was pretty amazed. Even then I thought that the quality of life of the average German or Dutch citizen was higher than for those at the same level in the US, and it has only gotten worse in the US since then. Things like health care, paid time off, public transit, infrastructure, just general quality of life day to day seemed superior in the countries I visited. The quality of the floors I slept on was much improved. Sure, people’s apartments and houses were smaller, but the cities actually had public spaces that you could be in without having to buy anything (and that weren’t overrun with homeless people). The food was better. You didn’t have to drive everywhere. I was AMAZED that people routinely got four to six weeks of paid vacation, even at the kind of menial retail and customer service jobs that I as a musician would have to pick up between tours.

    But, I would become irritated that the people I met had a very distorted view of life in the US. It was doubly annoying because, let’s face it, Europeans have a self image of being much more worldly and sophisticated than we dumb Americans. Yet they had a rose-tinted view of life in the US that seemed ridiculous to me. It was like they thought every dumb American sitcom with a family in a huge house was an accurate depiction of life in the US. I was assumed to be a “rich American”. No poor Americans got to travel, so they had probably never met any. And they took things for granted (not having to worry about healthcare, not having to own a car, actually getting to take a vacation) that would seem pie in the sky to working class Americans.

    I haven’t been back during the Trump era (I had actually been planning to, before covid hit) so I wonder if the bloom is finally off the rose.

    1. TimH

      Media in both USA nd UK, arguably Australia also to a lesser degree, regard political reporting as real-time entertainment reporting from a distance. The politics and backround is not analysed nor critiqued, nor treated as either a professional and serious activity… because it isn’t. Essentially, the elite governors have no accountability to the governed, and they know it and behave accordingly.

    2. Jos Oskam

      @Sutter Cane

      Being Dutch I hate to confess that, indeed, I was guilty of “… a very distorted view of life in the US …” as you so aptly put it.

      During my studies and early career in the 70s-80s I actually planned on emigrating to the USA. I was mightily impressed with all things American: the cars, the planes, the movies, the computers, the up-and-coming Internet, the landscapes, the history, the open spaces, the personal freedom, the rugged individualism, yada yada. I visited the USA several times during that period, so it was not just fact-free dreaming from far away. And it was only personal- and family circumstances that put an end to my emigration plans, not any great foresight on my part.

      Looking back, the first cracks in my perfect image of the USA appeared after 9/11. The country I so admired for all its might and perfection had not been able to thwart this threat. And to add insult to injury, a “patriot act” was signed into law that as far as I could see more constrained good-willing US citizens and curbed their constitutional rights than it combated real terrorists. But okay, nothing is perfect.

      Then came the financial crisis. And Obama, the same Obama people here in Europe actually threw parties for after his election, sold out his constituents at the first opportunity to keep a bunch of psychopathic bankers out of the wind and threw millions of misinformed house buyers under the bus. Not to speak of the insurance/healthcare/pharma cabal written Obamacare, stepping up government espionage on citizens, drone bombing the heck out of countries all over the world, and getting a Nobel peace prize in the bargain.

      And then there is Trump. I actually hoped that he would be better than Hillary, in draining the swamp, ending hopeless foreign wars, limiting interventionism and reboot American industry. Instead, he behaves like the most obnoxious suits I have had the misfortune to encounter in my career, like not focusing on improving yourself, but squashing competition instead, by sanctioning everything and everybody not to your liking or posing a threat, like Iran, the Chinese, the Russians, Nordstream pipeline, you name it.

      The last nails in the coffin of my love for the USA have been hit recently. Censoring, nudging, propagandizing and outright brainwashing in the best (or worst…) Bernays tradition by an unholy trinity of newspapers, television and social media really want to make me puke. The unpunished suppression, cancellation and outright demonization of opinions that do not confirm to the mainstream would have left Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels speechless. I am really at a loss why people let these manipulators have a pass.

      No, I no longer want to emigrate to the USA. And the USA would probably not want me anyway. Too old, and since I’m living in France and quite liking it, probably too socialist. And to top off the cake, I do not hate Russia or Putin, and don’t believe they are the threat they’re made out to be.

      Sorry if this rant sounds condemning, demeaning or overly critical. It’s probably just the frustration of an old geezer reminiscing of the ideals of his youth and despairing of what has become of them…

      1. howseth

        Makes me sad. I remember traipsing around Europe in 1978 – on a youth Eurail Pass – and being impressed by the small cities how comfortable – and calm – they seemed. Especially in Holland – all the plants in the windows – the parks… a steak tartar street vendor in De Hague. I even applied some years later for a Fulbright fellowship to the Netherlands (being an artist). The Americans were happy to send me off – the Dutch did not want anything to do with me – Alas!

        Speaking of emigrating: I’ve done that 3 times in my life. Here, in this big country: NY – Chicago – Santa Cruz, California, (where the rent is too damned high – and there are people living in tents, and cars, on the street and in the woods – all over the neighborhood… You would think we could stop our stupid military adventures – and wasting all that money on weapons – and if we actually did have an America First movement – take care of our own people. Again, makes me sad. Angry.

        Our elite seem like ordinary idiots.

      2. Sutter Cane

        @Jos Oskam

        The overly sunny view EU citizens had of the US was always interesting to me. I remember a Swiss couple who came to the US on their (seemingly endless, it seemed to me) holiday. They were music fans and had planned their trip around visiting Memphis, Nashville, Austin, and L.A., but had taken for granted that they could just take a train between these cities, and also didn’t appreciate how far they were from each other. I remember thinking, I may be a dumb American, but at least I cracked open a Lonely Planet or Fodor’s guide before traveling to a country I’d never visited before, and didn’t just assume everything there worked the same as at home!

        I considered becoming an expat after my first visit, but honestly I never imagined that it would get this bad here. Now I sometimes wish I had done so when I had the chance. I have some musician friends who made the move, with varying degrees of success. The key to success seemed to be having some transportable skill (like bartending), and marrying a local, and I never had any luck with that! One friend of mine attempted to move to the Netherlands (without having married anyone first) and was only able to find the same kind of menial work there that Mexican immigrants to the US often end up in. He moved back after having blown through his savings. He found the language difficult to learn. Being a touring musician gave one an inaccurate impression of how many people spoke English, and when it came to day-to-day living it turned out that being able to speak Dutch was actually quite necessary! Aside from being far away from family, being a product of the American educational system and having nonexistent foreign language skills was the biggest factor in my never taking the plunge.

        The only thing giving me some consolation for remaining in the US at the moment is that my current residence is probably bigger than what most of my European friends have. A former American friend now in Barcelona (who married a Spanish girl and now has an EU passport) told me about how he hadn’t left his flat for weeks during their lockdown. I visited him last time I was over there, and his place was very small. At least I have a small yard and a patio so I can get some sun. Since I’m not going anywhere for quite a while due to covid, that’s not a small consideration.

        1. Jos Oskam

          @Sutter Cane

          Yes I can imagine the language difficulties your friend had. Although the younger Dutch usually speak English quite well, that does not apply to the older contingent. The group that was schooled around WW2 (like my parents) is now dying off but they were actually prohibited from learning English during the German occupation, and if memory serves me learning English at school only took off in the 50s. So depending on when your friend was in Holland that may have something to do with it. And learning Dutch is extremely difficult for any foreigner, the switch from Dutch to English grammar and pronunciation is certainly a lot easier than the other way around.

          As for housing, I left the Netherlands because although there isn’t much wrong with the country it is quite smallish for 16 million people. So houses tend to be small and gardens too. I now live in the southwest of France, where the proceeds of the sale of my Dutch house allowed me to buy a dilapidated farm with lots of terrain in the middle of nowhere. This was around 2006 and real estate prices here have been in the doldrums since the GFC in 2008. Nobody wanted to “bury themselves among these farmers”, it was all Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, the cities and coastal areas where it was happening. Now all of a sudden people are fleeing the cities, local RE agencies are bombarded with inquiries and the market is suddenly hot. And instead of people laughing at the dump I’m living in, they suddenly want to buy it! Crazy times indeed.

          There’s lots of things to be critical about in France, but usually things are quite well organized once you get used to the tons of red tape, and the healthcare system is absolutely first-class. So even though I am currently locked down on my property by the government, I have acres of private property to play on, and even if things get out of hand there is always the good feeling that one can fall back on medical care worthy of that name.

          And yes, I had to learn French, but thanks to the fact that French was mandatory in school when I was young, and having to manage in a country where nobody speaks anything but French, I have become fluent. Which is absolutely essential if one wants to survive here.

          Regards from Gascony.

      3. berit

        The Nobel Peace Price was awarded to Obama BEFORE he got started doing drone killings and other crimes against human beings, dirty stuff, just ahead of a US military surge in Afghanistan. It’s still an embarassment here in Norway, preferably not mentioned, or explained away because of the hope he engendered, that Obama. was as good as his promises. Presidents never are. US power is jugded by crushing footprints at home and abroad and some 800 military bases on foreign soil to uphold the dangerously crumbling superpower.

    3. Glen

      I have not been able to travel as much, but our daughter went to college in England for a year, and visited much of the EU while she was there. (And also amazingly, sending our daughter to college in England was less expensive than sending her to our state university for a year including housing, travel, food, etc)

      To say that it opened her eyes is an understatement.

      But I fear that we need to travel to India to see the future of the USA if we keep electing neo liberal/cons.

  8. Mikel

    “The world should not underestimate America’s capacity for renewal…”

    Too often, rebranding has been the substitute for actual renewal.

  9. Synoia

    After WW II, The US was considered as a leader, and example to be followed.

    At this juncture, what example is there to be followed?

    Manufacturing? Political System? Health Care? Finance? Keeping Peace? Helping other Nations?

    1. Zamfir

      Money, surely? If you are on the richer side of the spectrum, the US still looks mighty attractive. American businesspeople are very rich. Same goes for the higher paid workers – those tend to have more money in the US than their counterparts elsewhere. If you are somewhat rich person, then the US looks like a place where you could have been even richer. That grants a lot if prestige, exactly among people who have an outside influence.

      Somewhat related, there is a swath of very prestigious Americans insitutions that have impact the world over. Universities, silicon valley, media, the military, finance. Even if you think the Americans are doing those wrong, you still have to live in their world.

      Weird example perhaps: many European political parties send young campaigners to volunteer in the US. Obviously, no one wants to end up with the US political system. But at the same time, US campaigns are seen as examples – at the very least, you have to learn their latest tricks in case your opponents try them out.

  10. Mel

    Michael Hudson’s Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance is good on the construction of the American Century. Once you’ve seen where it came from, you can see where it’s gone.

  11. ksw

    Anti American sentiment is nothing new, not specific to Trump and to publish this article as specific to Trump is disingenuous. My brother traveled to Europe with a group through his Jesuit high school summer 1970. Anti American sentiment was so bad that he said they often claimed they were Canadians.

    1. Jos Oskam

      In general Europeans around 1970 considered Americans friends. At school we learned about WW2 and to be thankful to the US-allied forces for liberating us from the Germans. I do not remember a general anti-American sentiment around that time, at least not in the Netherlands.

      However, the Vietnam war was not appreciated, and the My Lai massacre and its follow-up certainly rubbed lots of people the wrong way, which might explain your brother’s experience.

    1. Synoia

      VE and VJ dates, coupled with formal surrenders. Do you have an alternative of the results to present.?

  12. bruce

    The appeal of America has been diminishing for decades. When I was young, an American passport was solid gold anywhere in the world; sadly, this is no longer the case. If I were a wizard, I would morph into a Canadian for border crossings, hotel check-ins, foreign police encounters and the like.

  13. Sound of the Suburbs

    Capitalism needs competition.
    The US had to demonstrate that US capitalism was much better than Russian communism.
    The US could clearly demonstrate the average American was much better off than their Russian counterpart.
    Then the competition disappeared.

  14. jpr

    @Glen: “But I fear that we need to travel to India to see the future of the USA if we keep electing neo liberal/cons.”

    Heh, the caste system is coming to US:

    Of course, they’ve had an out in the open “casta system” in Latin and South America for centuries:

    George Orwell, among other Westerners who lived in South Asia for an extended period, marveled at the “horrible stability” of such a system:

    @Glen: “But I fear that we need to travel to India to see the future of the USA if we keep electing neo liberal/cons.”

    Heh, the caste system is coming to US:

    Of course, they’ve had an out in the open “casta system” in Latin and South America for centuries:

  15. Shiloh1

    The worst thing the U.S. ever did was to get involved in The Great War. That’s how much I give a d- about what any other country thinks. Close all the overseas bases immediately.

  16. Clem

    They’re not staying away in record numbers at the border and the visa applications however, no matter how bad it gets. It’s all relative.

  17. Sound of the Suburbs

    Where did it all go wrong?
    The US implemented the Washington Consensus to form an open, globalised world.

    The Berlin Wall had fallen and a uni-polar world was born.
    The US reigned supreme.
    China was insignificant and Russia was moving towards the West with Gorbachev.

    It’s a multi-polar world and the US’s influence in the world has been greatly diminished
    There are threats from China and Russia
    The US runs a massive trade deficit

    Trump didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out this wasn’t the best idea the Americans have ever had.
    As a sore loser, he got the right hump over countries that performed well in an open, globalised world, like China and Germany that ran big trade surpluses.

    It’s a competitive world and someone else is winning.
    It was time for Trump to throw all his toys out of the pram.

    What a disaster.

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