Presidential hopefuls are reviving the Ugly American Reputation

davidlivermore | March 19th, 2012 11 Comments

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.


11 Responses to Presidential hopefuls are reviving the Ugly American Reputation

  1. I was thinking you should run for office. I would vote for you.

  2. David as one who lives outside the US and follows the US election process, I agree with you. These guys (running for office) do not know what they are talking about!

  3. Be careful what you wish for Andy!

    • Is that your official announcement that you’re running, Dave?

  4. Livermore 16

  5. Only if you’re my running mate Jo Ann!

  6. Dave Livermore for President!!! Go Dave!!!

    I’ll be your campaign manager, door to door, chase donations, whatever.

  7. Thanks, David, for the comments. Just one thing…can you please get the politicians to actually read it?

  8. Pingback: Last Week’s Reading: Instruction Manuals, Pacifists, and Being out of the Loop. « New Ways Forward

  9. Dave,

    Good post and good timing!

    As a Canadian who is a bit of a political watcher, I hear you loud and clear and wish the entire process could be overhauled. Speaking of process, I respectfully disagree with Alan’s comment that “these guys do not know what they are talking about”. I think, they have very accurate polls to help them know what the voter wants them to say … and that includes, competitive talk about American jobs and superiority. So, they know exactly what they “need to say” about China and/or any other global competitor.

    As well, the shrewd and experienced political watcher will realize that there is always rhetoric for the home turf, to fire up the voters and deter those who would skew the process by actually showing up to vote. Believe me, what was once the rarified art form of the Republican party … that is, “voter suppression” has now been deployed effectively by others, including the ruling Conservatives in Canada.

    This political tactic can be very effective in the short term and, it seems to be alive and well in these current primaries. However, as you suggest Dave, it leaves the adult dialogue about the “real world” on the sidelines while hairs are split at the extremes.

    In my view, politicians are eroding their own base of authority to speak for the United States. They may aspire to the office, but with the down and dirty tricks of the trade, they destroy the very legitimacy of that office.

    Lastly, Dave don’t run for President, you have important work to do and you may be the very person speaking for the people, to those who are really listening.

    • Wow! Thanks for that very thoughtful post Neil. And I agree–from the other side of the border, I’ve begun to be surprised to see some of this same rhetoric bleed into Canadian discourse.

      The other day I was sitting in an airport lounge in Hong Kong where the news program was broadcasting sound bytes from a couple of the presidential candidates. It kind of felt like watching an R-rated movie and having my parents walk in the room. I felt all the more aware of the profane language.

      Thanks again for learning in here Neil!