My time living outside the United States has made me appreciate many things about the place I still think of as home. I’ve written about most of them before, and really, how many times can I wax poetic about iced coffee and Goya black beans? Oh, and friendliness and good dentistry, ingenuity and plain old chutzpah too. And cheeseburgers. Mmm. Cheeseburgers.
Through that looking-glass I also get a different view of the other stuff too. The stuff that’s not so mmmm cheeseburgers. Some of it was on the periphery of my vision before we moved, but some of it I needed to see from a different angle, through a different filter. Living in Europe allows me that angle. It also gives me the chance to hear what non-Americans really think about America.
What they think is that we are getting dangerously close to fucking up a pretty good thing.
Most people I’ve met genuinely like the United States. They like its grandeur, its cities, its food, and its shopping. They like the diversity it offers, the geography, the size and breadth. They like what it represents in terms of freedom, (ok, not the gun freedom). They like the opportunities it offers.
They also think that, as a country, we can be incredibly stupid.
Europeans don’t think the U.S. is stupid in a two plus two equals a triangle kind of way. More of an inexperienced teenager who thinks they know everything there is to know kind of way.
From their perch of history most of Europe looks at the United States as an aunt or uncle would look upon a favorite nephew or niece. Young, fun to have around most of the time, full of enthusiasm for the future, but prone to making some seriously questionable decisions.
Before anyone gets their gets their star-spangled panties in a twist, take into consideration this: Being young isn’t a bad thing. After all, youth represents the key to the future. Being young means being able to take an age-old problem and look at it from a new angle, to find solutions to things that the old guard has been struggling with for years. Being young is having the time and the energy to make changes, having the fire in your belly to see them through.
The problem is, that’s not exactly what the United States is doing right now.
Over here, what it looks like most is the U.S. acting like a hormonal teenager rebelling against its parents by doing stupid, stupid things they haven’t thought through fully. Things that could have a disastrous knock-on effects.
The Europeans I speak with talk of the far-right challenges to the status-quo in their own countries and of how they were stopped: Not with might and bombs and blowing shit up, but with hard choices, a lot of soul-searching, and slow change. Europeans ask me why the United States doesn’t invest in infrastructure, in a healthy, educated population, in social programs, because from their view on the other side of the been-there-done-that river, it’s the only lasting way to ensure that a country doesn’t implode and collapse in on itself. After all, you can only drop so many bombs before someone comes after you. Or you run out.
True, lasting strength is taking care of your own, not just your white and your wealthy. Strength is progress–scientific, technological, social. Strength is evolution and adaptation. It is survival.
It may sound surprising, but Europe wants nothing more than for the United States to succeed, to keep moving on, moving forward.
Why? They are invested in our future. For all Americans want the rest of the world to butt out of their business when it comes to the matter of electing a leader, it doesn’t quite work that way. For better or worse, the United States is a global player. Americans who want to isolate themselves from the rest of the world will be the first ones crying foul when gasoline prices go up, when jobs go missing, when even more factories close and banks shutter because they’ve become irrelevant in the global marketplace. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t clamor for cheap market goods and then complain about no jobs in the economy because US companies have moved their factories to produce those cheap goods. You can’t say we’re going to deport immigrants because they’re taking your jobs and then complain that those jobs don’t pay enough, while at the same time defending the small (or big) business owners who wouldn’t make a profit if they had to pay higher wages. It’s the teenager who wants all the privileges of adulthood while still basking in the relative irresponsibility of childhood.
You can’t say we’re going to bomb the shit out of anyone who threatens us and then act innocent and confused when you try to figure out why people hate you. That’s like the sixteen year-old who didn’t go to class and then is shocked and outraged when the teacher flunks him.
Right now Europe is watching their favorite nephew balance on the tipping point of a potentially disastrous decision. They’re watching because they can’t look away, because they care, because it affects them. Because they don’t want to see us fuck it up. They know all too well from their own histories that sometimes that young upstart, the one with grand ideas but too much anger ends up going out to the woodshed and blowing his brains out. They know sometimes the brightest and bravest does something incredibly reckless and ends up taking out a whole bunch of innocents in the process.
They don’t want us to fail. They don’t hate us. They don’t think we’re weak.
They just want us to make the right choice.