Jon’s post (not, I think, representing his real views) implies that being respected, or even loved, by foreigners is only useful insofar as we can manipulate them into doing something for us. This recalls Calogero’s dad’s distinction between fear and respect (A Bronx Tale, 1993) and misses the important point that if a lot of people despise you, you may be doing something despicable, and might want to stop because despicable is a bad way to be even if you could profit from it.
When American crime TV shows were first shown in Europe, Europeans started asking about things like habeas corpus and a right not to incriminate oneself, that they didn’t have and had never missed. Good for them, no payoff for us; but still good. I had a much better experience in Europe these last four days than the last few times (I stayed up all night Tuesday with my laptop in a hotel room) because I felt better about myself and mine; I even got to poke my Italian friends about Berlusconi. On hearing my accent, strangers would tentatively approach me for reassurance that Obama would win. They clearly thought they were going to get something very important out of that outcome, a big non-zero-sum payoff.
John, a British reader, sent me the following email:
This morning, in our local coffee shop (in Islington, our version perhaps of the East Village or Park Slope in NYC, more investment bankers and barristers than trendy lefties these days—but definitely a touch of ‘Stuff White People Like’), my wife saw:
– A British woman whose face was painted with the Stars and Stripes
– an American woman who said for the first time in 8 years she could stop pretending to be a Canadian
The real historical significance of this will turn out to be, I think, that a Kenyan-American rose to the presidency of the world’s largest power. Only Americans (and ill-informed Europeans) thought this story was about ‘black’ America—what it really was about was immigrant America. The children of Africa, the demographic future of the human race (roughly speaking, c.10% of the world’s population, but approaching 20% of its under 25s, even with the depredations of AIDS) are beginning to make themselves felt in the world. 3 million years after Lucy left her footprint in Olduvai Gorge, a man of Africa, whose father was born a few hundreds of miles away from Lucy, is again leaving his footprints on the human race…
I sometimes think that Americans (or their media) didn’t ‘get’ this election, in that you could not grasp the degree to which the world’s image of you as a land of something other than rule by hypocritical incestuous elites (as Europe is so ruled) and irrational hicks (like GWB), was riding on what happened. I still don’t quite believe that you found the guts to make the right choice. This was the world’s election, that happened only to grant the franchise to Americans.
It felt a bit like the day Mandela was released from prison….
In Kenya they are saying:
Ndio Tunaweza, America.
(Yes. We Can. in Swahili)