Have you ever traveled overseas? If you have, did you notice how foreigners treat us as Americans? It certainly depends on the country in which you find yourself, but people, on the most part, treat us as if we are blessed or fortunate or just plain lucky to be Americans.
You wouldn’t think that based on the picture painted by the Media about the worldview of a Trump United States.
I not long ago spent a couple of months on business in Europe and Malaysia. I spent time in Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, and northern Italy and then several weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This trip was my first foray into Europe, and I was surprised at the diversity of thought between nations. Switzerland was in many respects, much like the U.S. Locals in Milan were ambivalent to my being American, but they did not want American dollars! Malaysia was incredible. Their food, culture, entertainment, and hospitality were some of the best of each I’ve ever experienced
Though nations were different, there was almost a universal feeling I got regarding how they felt about the U.S. and all of us.
They acted as if we are the most educated, affluent, and fortunate people on Earth. That probably doesn’t surprise you. But what shocked me and surely will you was the almost universal sense I had of locals in each of those countries: they are shocked that Americans do not appreciate the freedoms, opportunities, and diversity Americans have just because we are Americans.
Maybe it’s because we’re spoiled or because we take all we have for granted. I think it’s a combination of those plus the fact we are told again and again by an antagonistic press that what was formerly useful in the U.S. is now wrong and that what was once evil we fought in other countries to keep from coming here is excellent. What a paradox!
What changed in the U.S.? Do we segue from generation to generation, leaving everything we learned behind when each generation disappears?
We Baby Boomers heard the stories of World War II, the Korean Conflict, and we either watched or participated in Vietnam. But our kids didn’t see any of that. They didn’t experience any of the loss, the anger, the pain, or the fear of any of those conflicts. They’re all just stories to them.
Even the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 are nothing but a story to the current crop of American young adults. Sure they understand 3000 Americans died at the hands of terrorists. But making that applicable to them has not happened and probably will not.
Perspective controls what we think regardless of its truth.
Maybe the Europeans have a bit more respect for America than do many Americans because of their perspective. Europe has experienced far more wars and conflicts on their soil than have Americans. Their firsthand views of violence, terror, and war are certainly flavored differently than ours and that of our children.
With that in mind, I share here what one European writer had to say in an editorial about America and Americans shortly after 9/11. It might explain where the U.S. WAS as compared to where the U.S. IS.
We rarely get a chance to see another country’s editorial about the USA. Remember what our country was like 18 years ago.
Read this excerpt from a Romanian Newspaper. Mr. Cornel Nistorescu wrote the article and published under the title ‘C’ntarea Americii,’ meaning ‘Ode To America,’ in the Romanian newspaper Evenimentulzilei ‘The Daily Event’ or ‘News of the Day’ – 18 years ago.
A Romanian ”Ode to America”
Why are Americans so united? They would not resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all the languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and religious beliefs.
On 9/11, the American tragedy turned three hundred million people into a hand put on the heart. Nobody rushed to accuse the White House, the Army, or the Secret Service that they are only a bunch of losers. Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed out onto the streets nearby to gape about.
Instead the Americans volunteered to donate blood and to give a helping hand.
After the first moments of panic, they raised their flag over the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colors of the national flag. They placed flags on buildings and cars as if in every place and on every car a government official or the president was passing. On every occasion, they started singing: ‘God Bless America !’
I watched the live broadcast and rerun after rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who gave his life fighting with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that could have killed other hundreds or thousands of people.
How on earth were they able to respond united as one human being? Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put into collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit, which no money can buy. What on earth unites the Americans in such a way? Their land? Their history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace, I thought things over, I reached but only one conclusion… Only freedom can work such miracles.
He saw something that impressed him. What was it? Is it still here? Would he write the same story today as then?
These are questions for which it would behoove us all to dig deep and find truthful answers. I’ll go out on a limb and say that today’s America is a vastly different America than in 2002. In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans worked together for the common good of the nation. Certainly, there then were millions of Americans with differing political perspectives on millions of issues. Certainly, there are today millions of Americans with differing political views on millions of topics. What was absent for the most part in 2001 and for a few years after lives and thrives in the U.S. today. What is it? Political animus and even hatred for those with opposing views. The nature of discourse has morphed into nothing but blame and disdain.
Where is that common good around which we all rallied in 2001?
I have no idea.
Can we get it back?
Again, I have no idea.
What if we cannot?
Many Americans wonder who and what they can still trust. The institutions that once bound us are disappearing, and we no longer seem to have each other’s backs. Everyone appears to have a different version of world events, and it feels harder than ever to sort fact from fiction. Our news feeds seem just to echo our views, and when people post alternative opinions, they are often attacked by angry mobs. We don’t seem to disagree anymore without perceiving another person’s beliefs as stupid, wrong, or even evil. We’re being played off each other; and told to see each other as threats and enemies, not Americans just like us but with separate experiences and views. The loudest and most extreme voices get heard, and others feel like tuning out altogether.
Nobody wants to turn the clocks back, because there was a lot that wasn’t right about the world of the past. Today, we seem more fractured and fragmented than anyone can remember. Instead of helping us find solutions to move us all forward, politics is driving us apart.
When people don’t understand each other, they can’t converse or find common ground. Yet somehow, if we could only press a “reset” button, it feels like things could be different, and we could move forward together as a country.
There is far more common ground among Americans than we might imagine, judging from the constant conflict among pundits, politicians, and social media users. This is true even on some of our most debated issues.
For example, a full 81 percent of the population agrees that racism continues to be at least somewhat serious problem in the United States. The fact that the overwhelming majority of people acknowledge that racism is a real problem opens the door for continued conversations about how the country moves forward.
Another critical area of agreement is the aspect of immigration policy regarding Dreamers: people brought to the United States illegally as children and given provisional legal status under the DACA program during the Obama administration. Three-quarters of all Americans believe there should be a pathway for these individuals to obtain citizenship through serving in the military or attending college. This exemplifies how the current polarization is leading to gridlock in American politics and preventing us from finding solutions supported by an overwhelming majority.
One issue that Americans regularly discuss is that they feel people have become too quick to take offense and criticize others’ use of language. Four out of five Americans believe “political correctness has gone too far in America”—an issue where most Americans with liberal views agree with Conservatives, again showing America is so much more than two groups with opposite views driven by animus and disdain for those in the other group.
Here’s what I believe:
The American electorate is more complicated than the simple story of political division that would make us understand.
The reason American society appears to be split 50/50 is that the loudest and most extreme viewpoints dominate airtime and social media space. And they each declare theirs is the voice of the Majority.
The majority of Americans are frustrated and fed up with partisanship. They want to return to the mutual good faith and unified spirit that characterize a healthy democracy.
Being able to discuss our disagreements remains essential. At the root of those disagreements are differences in core beliefs — how we see the world.
While our differences are often rooted in contrasts, that should not mean we cannot find common ground.
By acknowledging and respecting the values that give real-life our beliefs, we can restore respect and unity IF we choose to move that direction.
The vast majority of Americans — three out of four — believe our differences are not so vast that we cannot come together. But here’s the only dilemma that MUST be addressed and resolved if that will ever happen: those on both sides of EACH conversation about EACH difference must not only have the desire for reconciliation, but must be willing to negotiate and compromise sufficient to reach a consensus that can result in the unity Americans so desperately desire.
That’s certainly a tall order. But Americans can do that, IF we want it badly enough.