Wednesday, May 09, 2007

# Posted 5:08 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE WORST OF AMERICA: In the Republican primary debate recently, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was asked what he disliked most about America. Answering, he gushed,

'Gosh, I love America. I'm afraid I'm going to be at a loss for words...America for me is not just our rolling mountains and hills and streams and great cities, it’s the American people.

And the American people are the greatest people in the world. What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people -- hard-working, innovative, risk-taking, God-loving, family-oriented, the American people.'

Even on the most charitable reading, Romney didn't really answer the question.

So what should be most disliked about America? Not being from the US, I'd still like to take a shot at answering.

If I could think of one thing that has tainted the United States recently, it is a policy that has been carried out from below but tacitly approved from above - torture.

It has violated the values America rightly claims to embody, and endangered the individual liberty, freedom and the downright healthy suspicion of state power that is at the heart of its constitution and the best of its democratic, liberal and idealist traditions.

It has strategically wounded America's image in the world, as it fights what is as much an information war as a military war.

Just before some readers race to the comments section, no, this doesn't make the US the moral or political equivalent of Al Qaeda, or Saddam Hussein. But it does damage America's claims to stand for something that is worth defending.

And no, this didn't begin under Bush. Rendition, imprisonment abroad without trial, and torture were policies carried out under the Clinton Administration and condemned by human rights organisations. This is beyond party politics.

But more importantly, I'd be interested to hear what Oxblog readers might have answered to this question.
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

What I don't like about America is the backwards political system and leaders who are not cognizant to the desires of their constituents. Example: the Iraq war and the politics of fear that led up to it. There seems to have been a lack of logic or foresight in this administration.

War is not the answer for terrorism; it is one of the reasons that terror exists. If conservatives really want to fight terror then they should look into different alleys where funding would actually make a great impact. This war has cost over $340 billion to date. According to the Borgen Project, it costs just $19 billion annually to end starvation and malnutrition or just $23 billion annually to reverse the spread of Malaria and AIDS. Wouldn’t aiding in the development of countries and ending poverty thru the Millennium Development Goals be a better plan for attacking extremism?
Torture didn't begin with Clinton. The School of the Americas was a graduate school for torture well before his presidency.

Still, I agree that torture as evidenced by our 24 obsessed culture is the worst of modern America. Torture when you don't know about it is bad enough, but when it is openly celebrated as a vicarious experience, then you know America is in decline.
For me, at least, as a non-American living in the US, by far one of the most unappealing features of American society is the prevalence of the kind of unbelievably pompous, solipsistic political partisanship that can inflate a trivial little issue like the treatment meted out to a handful of terrorists far beyond its minuscule real-life significance.

In most democracies, the vast majority of the population is in fact cynically apolitical, and only abject nerds and creepy weirdos get really serious about partisan politics. The resulting political landscape thus often appears even more heated than in the US, because political debate is in the hands of all those nerds and weirdos. But at least you don't have to worry about discovering that a seemingly nice, pleasant fellow like Adesnik is capable of suddenly letting flow with a grand pronouncement on how some stupid little partisan scrap is nothing less than a fundamental acid test of the national moral character.
What I dislike about America (well, about medionorteamerica, aka the USA) is that it's run by people who have all sorts of obviously incorrect opinions and who choose terrible policies; it's a democracy rather than a people-who-agree-with-me-cracy, and the progressives trying to progress in obviously-wrong directions, and the conservatives trying to conserve obviously-wrong things, and all the rest are really messing things up. If only they'd just stop arguing and follow my advice, all would be well.

Also, my 10-year-old daughter would like a pony.
What Dan Simon said.

The tendency to make every human action political coupled with a need to confuse politics with morality ("those who disagree with me are bad people"), coupled with a lack of historical perspective ("this is the worst [whatever minor issue] EVER!").

I'm sure it's not unique to the US, but it really is annoying.

Torture? pffft. I'm against it, but manipulation by partisan operatives is the reason it's such a big deal. We torture no more (and probably a lot less) than peoples who judge us for it.
Well, as an American who's dutifully patriotic, but doesn't really burn with a passion for America, I'd have to say that what I most dislike about America is the parochialism of its population -- and this is true no matter where you are, whether it's New York City or Los Angeles or Houston, or even Kansas City (where I have never been, but I assume it's not much different from the other places). I know this is a common complaint, and is usually followed up by some pompous pronouncement about how much more enlightened Europeans who speak three languages are . . . but I don't really hold Europe and the various European peoples in all that much regard.

Any way we look at it, though, our population is appallingly ignorant about the rest of the world. By and large, we're content to construct an idealised image of the outside world -- either of the outside world as an ideal without vices, or as a negative ideal without virtues. The picture certainly becomes more complex in "sophisticated" discourse, but I've heard enough comments idealising the French or the Japanese, or abominating the Arabs, to think this is a pervasive problem in casual discourse.

One of the advantages a country like the United States, full of immigrants and their descendants, ought to have, I think, is a fluency in the discourses and cultures of other countries. We've all (almost all, at least) got family roots back in the old world, whether the old world is England or Ireland or Namibia or Vietnam or wherever. And lots of more recent immigrants retain some ties with the old country. Even Irish and Italian citizens of the United States, who mostly came here a century ago or more, make the effort (at least anecdotally). But I wish that the vast mass of the population were willing to keep up those ties. International air travel isn't expensive the way it used to be, and nor are international phone calls. A population more fully bicultural, with their American identity their primary, but not sole, allegiance, would, I think, be more cognizant of/grateful for the advantages of living in America, appreciate the existence of real disadvantages, and also have a better sense of what kinds of alternatives there are out there.

Just to illustrate, it's all very well to point to, say, the Swedish social model as a model for the US, but without a real understanding of how that intersects with Swedish culture and the lives of ordinary Swedes, I don't think we can make informed judgments about that. There are probably millions of Swedish or part-Swedish citizens of the United States, who could -- if they remained in close contact with their kin and communities back in Sweden -- provide those kinds of illuminating insights for our public discourse, even at the water-cooler-conversation level, but an emphasis not merely on assimilation, but on exclusive assimilation has deprived us of that kind of resource. Just as bad is our tendency to group peoples based on skin colour, so that Koreans and Japanese and Han and Bengalis and Marathas and Hakka and Filipinos are all converted into "Asians" -- a switch that tends to vitiate the authentic human ties to the old world culture, and replace them with an empty modern concept that's a vehicle for political grievances more than anything else. That kind of approach -- that kind of "multiculturalism" is no better.

Anyhow -- that inter-cultural relational capital seems to me to be an extraordinarily valuable human-resource that we mostly just throw away. Less now, perhaps, than fifty years ago, but we could take better advantage of our identity as a nation comprised almost entirely of immigrant family lines.
Our attention defecit. We won't stick to a policy if it requires time or prolonged sacrifice.
Surely the correct answer to this question must be, "The Flavor of Love."
The thing I hate most about America: the administrative state.

The agencies are blatantly unconstitutional and abusive of individual liberty. For example, the IRS has guys with badges and guns that enforce their regulations (Executive authority); it has special courts in which citizens are denied jury trials (Judicial authority); and those courts will rule based on regulations written by the IRS itself (Legislative authority). All of the agencies follow this pattern, violating the separation of power principle. Moreover, the President doesn't run the agencies, Congress does. so, the agencies serve to constrain legitimate Executive authority.

Who's to blame? Progressives, that's who. FDR created the administrative state out of a desire to let the "experts" run things. He used all manner of coercive means to archive it. He even threatened to pack the Supreme Court.

Am I against agencies qua agencies? No. Let's have an EPA, but let's give it only Executive powers. And let's have Congress writing laws rather than delegating it to "regulators." The government doesn't work like it should

I really hate that about America.
Paris Hilton
I gave this a lot of thought and I would have to say that it's our ignorance of our own history and our provincialism.
Although America has made some terrible choices in its foreign affairs, its decision on torture is difficult to make, especially when it is dealing with terrorists. Even though it is cruel to torture others for information, a terrorist would not quickly answer an interrogator's question about Al Quaeda's location or its next move. Other means are necessary in order to obtain this dire information. Some liberties and morals need to be sacrificed for better security.

However, I do agree that America has made some idiotic decisions in its foreign affairs (such as the war on terror) that have tainted America's reputation to the rest of the world. This can be attributed to the unwise people in charge of this country.
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