A few months ago, I was in Norway, and overheard some anti-Americanism. Nothing major, just the usual sniffiness, from a bunch of tourists aboard a ferry (Continental tourists). I wrote something like the following in Impromptus at the time: “I’ll miss it when it’s gone — the envy of America, the resentment of America, the sniffy little potshots. Because that’ll mean we’re not a big deal anymore. That will mean we’ve fallen off our perch. Who has time to resent, envy, or sniff about an ordinary or nothing country?”
I’ve had the same thought here in Austria. I’ll miss the sniffing about America — the little snarky remarks I hear — when it’s gone. I hope the day never arrives. When there is no anti-Americanism, there will be no America as we know it in the world.
I don’t hear much sniffing from ordinary people, mind you — the sniffing I hear is basically from aristos, the type I deal with at the festival. Others are apt to ask me what it’s like to live in New York, or tell me about their cousin in Milwaukee. (That’s the name of a Gershwin song: “My Cousin in Milwaukee.”)
A lady from Germany said to me, “What’s the matter with you people? Why are you forcing yourself down like this? Why do you want to be just another country like us here in Europe,” broke, stifled, and toothless? Another lady — Austrian — said to me, with disgust, “America is finished.” She almost spat out the words. She wasn’t happy about it — she was disgusted, heartsick.
“Decline is a choice,” some of us like to say. And I believe it’s true, to a large extent. (Maybe not all the way.) About a million times, I’ve quoted Bush the Elder, from his 1988 convention speech. It’s been over 20 years now. Where has the time gone? Anyway, he said this about Michael Dukakis, and his ilk: “My opponent’s view of the world sees a long, slow decline for our country, an inevitable fall mandated by impersonal historical forces. But America is not in decline. America is a rising nation.” On those last two words, Bush made a rising motion with his hand.
He continued, “He [Dukakis] sees America as another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe. And I see America as the leader — a unique nation with a special role in the world.”
A lot of Americans reject this view — Americans on both left and right. There is a segment of the Right that wants America to be small, quiet, closed, and inconsequential; much of the Left wants America to be socialist, or social-democratic, indistinct, and inconsequential. Then there are the others. The cliché is true: that the 2012 election is hugely important. Americans will be answering, in a way, “What kind of country are we going to have?”
I hope that all sides, all camps are well represented — by which I mean, honestly and forthrightly represented. I hope the Reaganite camp wins.
You know who’s just about the best articulator and exponent of Reaganism today? Jeb Bush. The very name “Bush” makes a lot of righties gag, I know. And it makes the entire Left gag. Lot of gaggin’ goin’ on. Not from all of us, however.
Since I’ve been quoting Vice President Bush, let me recall something else he said, in the debate versus Ferraro: “It’s a joy to serve with a president who does not apologize for the United States of America.” This ticked off a lot of Democrats, and perplexed some; I knew just what Bush meant, though, and appreciated it.
What was this post supposed to be about? Oh, yeah: anti-American attitudes in Europe (and elsewhere). If they ever go away, it’ll be very sad, because of what it will mean. In this sense, I offer a slogan: Anti-Americanism Forever!