When she won an Oscar a few years back, actress Sally Field memorably blurted, “You like me!” to her fellow Hollywood stars. It’s become commonplace for Americans traveling abroad to assume the opposite. As we skittishly pull out our passport, we nervously assume the natives won’t like us.
But why not?
In the Nov. 25 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, columnist David Rossie explains that “the United States, thanks to the Cheney/Bush administration, is about as popular world-wide as the Ebola virus.” He goes on to detail the “draconian penalties” handed down to some American bridge players (that’s the card game, not the congressional earmark game in which representatives attempt to direct billions of dollars to unnecessary hometown projects) who held up a sign reading “We Did Not Vote For Bush” after they won at an international competition.
But if we want to know why the U.S. is so unpopular abroad, the bridge players have already shown us. Not with their anti-Bush signage (their sentiment seems overwhelmingly popular overseas, and perhaps even here at home). No, it’s pretty simple: Other countries don’t like us because the United States wins at almost everything.
Our dollar, despite recent declines, remains the reserve currency of the planet. It’s the money legitimate businessmen and gangsters alike count on. Whether one is buying a big-screen TV from China or dealing in high-grade China White, the price will be set and the bill paid in greenbacks.
Commentators frequently complain that Americans don’t learn foreign languages, but that’s because we don’t really have to. We’re confident that wherever we go, somebody will speak English. In fact, about the only place you can go where you don’t have to know some English is an inner city school in the U.S. Too many students are allowed to slide through “bi-lingual” classrooms here without actually learning our language.
Finally, we dominate in international competitions, even ones (like bridge tournaments) that most people don’t care about. The French, for example, are wild about bicycle racing. Yet it was American Lance Armstrong, with his seven straight titles, who put the sport on the map. American golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson dominate their global sport. Athletes from around the world know that, to be the best, they must play Major League Baseball or NBA basketball. Even soccer players like David Beckham are leaving their homelands -- where there’s a passion for their sport -- to compete in the States, where few of us care.
The U.S. dominates where it matters, too. Our economy is too big to fail, and our growth has often (as during the late ’90s Asian meltdown) propped up the global economy. Meanwhile, other countries know that to compete, they’ve got to play by our rules. That’s why free trade is now promoted by the leaders of most growing economies (except, increasingly, here in Washington). So, in the end, maybe we’re making too much of this supposed anti-Americanism.
After all, France and Germany are now governed by the pro-U.S. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, respectively. Pro-American Tony Blair was replaced this year by equally pro-American Gordon Brown as British prime minister. Even the incoming Australian prime minister, who wants to pull his country’s troops from Iraq, announced that he’d “emphasized to President Bush the centrality of the U.S. alliance in our approach to future foreign policy.”
However, it couldn’t hurt our image if we started losing some games.
The British built a global empire, introduced cricket throughout their dominions (a game that could only have been spread at gunpoint) then watched as their colonists steadily improved their skills on the pitch. These days, teams from India regularly celebrate victories over the hapless English. Yet, while focusing on their cricket, the Indians went decades without bothering to rebel against the relative handful of British soldiers sent to garrison their land. Sport was an opiate for the masses.
We won the ground war against Saddam Hussein in 2003 and, thanks to the surge, we seem to be on the cusp of defeating the insurgency that followed. But we don’t need to win everything.
So maybe next year, our bridge players should leave their signs at home and instead build a bridge to others by losing to them at cards. That way we’d all have something to feel good about.