Restoring our National Self-Confidence
The “ugly American” has been a part of the international lexicon for nearly as long as the United States has been a global power. Post-World War 2, Americans, dominate and relatively wealthy, began vacationing abroad en masse for the first time, particularly in Europe, and our sophisticated and effete friends across the pond just didn’t know what to do with the young, brash vacationers who were now overrunning their cafes and beaches like some consumer-minded blitzkrieg. Sure, we had come to their aid just ten years earlier and then rebuilt their nations, but why were we still there? And what’s with the attitude? We seemed almost….happy. Protected from the war by two oceans and not falling prey to the pre-war downers of people like Jean-Paul Sartre, we stepped off the boats looking for a good time and if the Europeans weren’t willing to go along for the ride, we made our own parties. It was like the frat house threw a kegger at the Chess Club meeting and the geeks have held a grudge ever since.
So, are we Americans, as the rest of the world seems to believe, an egotistical bunch? This has been said about us for decades, but the idea that we are too proud for our (and the world’s) good has really taken hold since the end of the Cold War, after the fall of the Soviet Union took the world from a bi-polar power structure to a uni-polar one, and the United States was left alone atop the heap as the last remaining superpower. When the USSR dissolved nations, even some of our allies, began too worry that we would become too influential, that we would be able to force our will on others, with no nation strong enough to check our power. It was then that the campaign to bring us down to size began in earnest. Interestingly, the campaign has been more effective at home than it has been abroad.
We have had a generation of downplaying our own achievements and greatness, largely through the school system. The Founding Fathers have gone from being revered to being demonized as nothing more than greed-driven slave owners. The histories of American wars have been re-written from acts of liberation to being a drive for conquest. The settling of the nation has been forever stained as nothing but genocide against the indigenous peoples. The history of the United States we are now being told, is one of oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the drive to conquer. We must, they tell us, be reined in before we do more harm to the world
America may be the first nation to die for a lack of hubris. We may very well fall, ripped apart by internal dissension due to our unwillingness to coalesce under the banner of what the United States was, but preferring to be drawn to a multi-polar nationality that emphasizes multi-culturalism and a global “can’t we all get along” approach, rather than any sense of national pride. Some see this as good. The Left, in general, and Barack Obama specifically, aspire to this. America, in their estimation, is too haughty. We’ve been the big kid on the block for too long and have done damage to the global order. Europe, they say, is the paradigm for the modern nation collective and that paradigm is to make the will of any one nation subservient to the international will. National interests, and certainly the interests of any one people, should take the back seat. You no longer exist for yourself, patriotism is passé, you are a part of the international community and you owe all to your fellow man. The global Left would turn e pluribus unum on its head and extinguish American individualism.
Its ironic that a nation can be so reviled and yet is still the destination of so many immigrants. The United States remains that “shining city on the hill” and it remains so because of the legacy bequeathed to us by the Founders and because of the people. Americans should be a proud lot, but we aren’t. We have never aspired to an empire. We have never tried to force our culture on any other people. Where we have won, its due to the strength of our ideals, not our weaponry. Our “empire” has been that of spreading freedom and self-determination abroad, not of control and subjugation. In His 1989 farewell speech to the nation, Ronald Reagan summed the American experiment eloquently:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.
That is the America that I see, as well. And that is something that we should all take pride in.