Just about the time I think we’re beginning to overcome our ugly American image, the men who want the top leadership role in our country take us two steps backward. Think about how these words sound when you read them from another part of the world:

 Senator Santorum: “I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.”

Governor Romney:  “China is stealing (the US’) intellectual property, hacking into our computers, artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs. [The Chinese] are smiling all the way to the bank….and taking our future.”

President Obama: “Our workers are the most productive on earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you—Americans will always win.”

I get it. You won’t get elected in this country by saying, “Alright my fellow Americans. We had our time being superpower. Let’s take a back seat for awhile and let China have a turn.”

But do these guys remember that 6.7 billion people are listening and not applauding? Okay—only a fraction of that number actually give a rip about what’s being said by these men but plenty outside the U.S. are paying attention.

I’ve spent most of the past couple months outside the U.S. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had so many conversations with individuals who have asked me why the U.S. is in denial that we’re moving into the global era? One thoughtful friend said, “It feels like there’s a resurgence of the ‘Us vs. Them’ rhetoric going on in the U.S.”

I don’t have a Pollyanna view that presumes China just wants what’s best for us. Nor am I convinced that a congenial summit sipping tea with Iranian leaders will make everything better. But do we have to resort to the other extreme?

Recently one of my daughters hated her new haircut. In trying to console her, I said, “I think it looks great. You’re so beautiful.” She replied as only an adolescent can: “You have to say that. You’re my dad.”

For the record, I really do think her haircut looked great. But she raised a fair point. Is what’s being said truly what these men believe or is it simply what they knew they “need” to say to get elected. So maybe my beef is most with the rest of us who cheer and applaud when we hear these “U.S. is best” mantras without pushing for a third way.

Call me a hopeless idealist but can’t we handle a leader who talks to us like “grown ups”. Something like, “Look. The world has changed. The days of one superpower are over. But let’s use our influence and creativity to be the world’s finest global broker. We must continue to attend to our interests and needs. But if we take on a posture of openness, collaboration, and even compromise, we may regain a reputation for innovation and as a place where people from all over the world can share a common dream. Let’s work with China to understand their best contribution. And with Germany…and Panama…and Russia…”

I’m proving why I should never run for office. But I’m unwilling to give up the wild idea that maybe…just maybe, each one of us can be an influence in our circles to tone down the “Us vs. Them” rhetoric, and creatively think about solutions that allow us to simultaneously care for our “own” while also having an eye on what’s best for our global community.


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