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Self-loathing Americans

Why do so many people around here feel so compelled to rag on this country at every opportunity? Why is it so damn fashionable to run down the USA, not only on the fronts where we have legitimate shortcomings, but from every angle, on every issue? Now before the usual suspects get offended, I want to be clear that I'm not accusing anyone of "hating America," or (God forbid!) being unpatriotic, because I don't think that's what's at work here. I think it's far more superficial than that, honestly. I don't even think it's about Bush. I think it's an affectation, quite frankly, and I just want to know where it comes from.

Yesterday I was walking my dog in a park here in Hoboken when I struck up a conversation with two lades who were also there with their mutts. All three of us lived in Hoboken, and, as it turned out, we had all lived extensively in Europe in the past. Two of us wanted to go back there -- or claimed to, anyway.

The ladies (and I never caught their names, so I'll just call them... Peace and Moonbeam. Yeah, that'll do) started prattling on about how much better life is in Europe because of affordable health care and generous vacation policies. Well, after 5 years of living in New York City and Hoboken, I'm very accustomed to this kind of prattle, so I said nothing. (Believe it or not, I never start these altercations myself, but I do occasionally finish them.)

But it didn't stop there. Then they went on to bemoan how much better the standard of living is in Europe than here. People can barely afford to live here anymore, they said. Simply having a decent place to live costs many people 50% of their salaries, Peace said. Yes, Moonbeam nodded sadly but wisely, it's true, too bad.

"But wait a minute," I said. "That's specific to this area. It's not representative of the United States as a whole. Furthermore, anyone trying to maintain a residence in Paris or London will quickly find themselves in the same boat."

Weeeeeellllll, but you have the same problem everywhere, Moonbeam said. Besides, you have to live in the city, because the rest of the country is a cesspool of ignorance, racism, and anti-Semitism(!), none of which is a problem in Europe.

"Now wait a minute!" I said. I began to recount some of my own encounters with racism and anti-Semitism when I lived in France. I reminded them of the recent ascension of far-right candidates and parties throughout Europe, LePen's run-off with Chirac, and the growing number of violent crimes against synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. Moonbeam was looking down at the ground, and digging a small hole with the toe of her shoe, "Well, I don't agree," she mumbled.

Weeeellllll, but you have the same problems everywhere, Peace said. (Are you getting the pattern yet? If America has a problem, you're supposed to shake your head mournfully, and assent to Europe's superiority. If Europe has a problem, you're supposed to go, "Weeeellllll, but you have the same problems everywhere.")

I was just beginning to wonder whether either of these women would concede that there was anything at all good about living in America, when Peace made it explicit: "It really sucks here," she said. "Everything is better in Europe."

I was flabbergasted. "Really?" I said. "Everything?"

"I can't think of anything that's not better in Europe, can you?"

I responded with the first thing that popped into my head. "How about double-digit unemployment? Is that better in Europe?"

Peace stared at me silently for a while, presumably considering how best to respond, when Moonbeam rode to the rescue. "Well," she said. "I don't really believe the unemployment numbers the government gives us. I think they're actually much higher."

"Yeah, me too." Peace said, happily. How does one respond? Perhaps one considers it's not worth one's time, and simply takes one's Labrador Retriever back home where one's wife and in-laws are waiting.

My in-laws, who are visiting this week from Switzerland, actually provide an interesting contrast to the girls from the park. They clearly prefer Europe to America, because they have chosen to live there permanently. But

  1. they would never say anything so vapid as "Everything is better in Europe," and
  2. they actually live in Europe! They're not all talk. They've put their money where there mouth is.

At the risk of sounding like a redneck, Peace and Moonbeam really do beg the question: If Europe is so damn great that you can't think of a single advantage to living here, then why are you living here? They couldn't even use the jobs excuse, because one of their pro-Europe arguments was (preposterously) that it was easier for Americans to find decent jobs in Europe than here.

Once again, I'm not accusing my friends from the park of being traitors or America-haters. I think it's all an affectation. I don't really think they even believed half the B.S. they were spewing.

So why is this kind of attitude so faddish? Peace and Moonbeam may have been an extreme example, but it's by no means an isolated occurrence. I've routinely had such encounters since I moved to the city. Where does this compulsion to run down the U.S. come from? Is it some kind of bogus, self-deprecating modesty, along the lines of, "I hate this raggedy old dress," or "My car is a piece of crap?" Is it a pathetic attempt to appear sophisticated? "Open-minded" (although it's difficult to imagine anyone less open-minded than Peace and Moonbeam.) It's hard to write their Europe fetish off to the "grass is greener" phenomenon, because they'd both lived their extensively.

To my liberal readers: Granted, I may not know a single American who "hates America." But I do know a hell of a lot of them who never miss an opportunity to talk this country down, even if what they say is absurd and nonsensical.

My question is simply, why?


This has always been the case. Even during Democrat control, "progressives" were always bemoaning how unprogressive America is. When you counter with look at all the people who choose to come here, they roll their eyes and inform you how more progressive this country or that country is.

On the other hand, I have sat down in red state areas and listened to how the country has gone downhill the other way. I remember one Southerner (in a diner in Florida) who tried to tell me how the liberals have taken over television and that every show had more blacks and gays than white straight people. When I probed further, I found out that he was talking about the Cosby show, which was off the air but in syndication at that time. Well, I said that was a black show and I started talking about the other shows that starred whites. He kept going back to the Cosby show.

You also have the Conservatives going on and on now about "judicial tyranny" as if the third branch of government was something new. Granted, the judicial branch sometimes comes in conflict with the other branches, but it was the judicial branch that slowed down FDR and it was in the courts that the Republicans first attacked Clinton. Judges have been arrogant for more than two hundred years now and somehow we have all survived.

This country isn't perfect, but it's still the best place to live. That's my opinion anyway.

I lived in England for the first 27 years of my life. A great country, also. Comparing the two countries is like comparing apples with apples.
Maybe the style of living is different and the subtle differences in culture but what still remains the same is the freedom to do what you want and how to live your life. How great is that? Pretty damned great in my book.

To answer your question, though, I do feel it is 'self-deprecating modesty'. It is pathetic. It's wonderful to hear someone say that America is great from someone who was born here. After all the 'attacks' on America from other countries, some really are embarrassed to be American. Who's fault is that, huh? Instead of standing up to the plate and say it as it is. Don't crap in your own home. If you don't like it... move! I am tired of hearing it and then if you say,'move' then you get attacked for implying they are 'unpatriotic' Enough of the BS. I can't babysit those that bitch and moan about America and then go out and have a few drinks and laughs and then go to work or not( you have that choice, believe it or not and can improve your status by...um...hard work....yeah that's right...what a concept).

Maybe a simplisic view but it is what I see.

Some people just are so damned negative anyway.

Is that why you were pissed off today, Barry?

I am too, now. Thanks :) ;)

Peace and Moonbeam go to Europe and then come back...why?

You're obviously irritated but I applaud your ability to talk about it while taking great pains to establish that you don't think they are America-haters or anything along those extreme lines.

Everyone needs their pose to strike. It can definately grate on one's nerves.

If it makes you feel any better, someone told me they wished I would get syphillis last night because I voted for Bush.

You can get syphillis through voting? (I'm glad I wore protection.)

Reading the initial thread again, what bugs me about these two women's opinion about America is it revolves around (1) superficial stuff such as housing costs and (2) how many people there are around who are just like them in their political/style/whatever views.

To me, the greatness of this country is not necessarily about the results, it is about the dialogue that happens in a true republic. Now, as a liberal, I often find my stomach turn over when I hear someone like Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin talk about the Founding Fathers and what they think is the bedrock that makes this country great. But you know what? There were liberals and conservatives back then, just as there were religious zealots and secularists arguing it out throughout our history. So a debate that started way back then continues today. Hell, Mark Levin, in a recent attack on the judiciary, quoted the anti-Federalist papers (the guys that opposed our Constitution).

So, to me, it is not about how many bible belt thumping narrow minded redstaters there are versus how many latte drinking Volvo driving blue staters there are. It is a republic that includes everybody. We have no kings, no queens. We are all really outsiders gathered on governing principles, rather than tribal loyalty. In the history of the world, there has been no greater superpower and no fairer superpower. When we make mistakes, we have been able to correct those mistakes and move forward again. I happen to think that the Presidency of George Bush is, on the whole, a series of mistakes but millions of redstaters disagree with me. I could be wrong or they could be wrong. We'll figure it out.

One problem that noone discussed is that people like the women you encountered are immediately identified as liberals, and then it's somehow encumbent upon other liberals to explain them.

In my mind they are fringe elements that are not deep thinkers, not doers, they just like to gossip and bitch. You see it on the conservative side too, PE touched on it with the Cosby show reference. In his example the guy just didn't get it. He had his agenda and reality wasn't about to change it. Same with these two ladies.

I believe many people identify themselves into groups through their associations over time. In every group you have people who are real thinkers, and people who merely regurgitate. That's why you here so many people belching out talk radio talking points but when pressed they can't explain any of their arguments.

I think for those ladies it became a sort of social fashion to speak as they did. It's reinforced over time when they aren't forced to face an opposing view. It's even worse if they have to argue with someone like Barry who calls them out.

But it was the same way with PE and the Cosby show talker.

The key to remember is that these women do not represent all libs, nor does PE's example represent all consrervatives. Yet we can easily allow ourselves to make the mistake of assuming that they do - maybe not on a conscious level, but we all make associations all the time. It's how we learn.

There is no "perfect place" in this world. There likely never was nor will be. Not as long as there are people living there.

We're not perfect, but neither is europe. I mean we're still talking about living in countries that are at the top of the food chain. Want to live somewhere bad? Try the third world.

The better something is, the more people feel the need to distinguish themselves from the pack by running it down.

Witness the "backlash" created by any actor, actress, band, film, etc when their fame passes a certain threshold. Up to a certain point they're everybody's buddy...but as soon as the popularity goes over the top, it becomes more fashionable to denigrate that icon.

That's not to say there aren't actually problems with this country; but the fact that those who rail against America most frequently are so loath to find anything positive about it suggests they're either short-sighted or agenda-driven.

I read something recently that might shed some light on this:

"I was raised in a time, in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, when people had stopped believing in themselves. I saw that disbelief, the reason that no longer gave itself reasons to survive, and was moved, depressed and angered by it . . . . Everywhere was professional despair, intellectual ennui, political cynicism . . . . The impossibility of change was the vogue. . . . Bombarded by dark chaff and no bright seed, what sort of harvest was there for man in the latter part of the incredible twentieth century? Forgotten was the moon, forgotten the red landscapes of Mars, the great eye of Jupiter, the stunning rings of Saturn.

"....Life has always been lying to ourselves . . . . to gently lie and prove the lie true to weave dreams and put brains and ideas and flesh and the truly real beneath the dreams. Everything, finally, is a promise. What seems a lie is a ramshackle need, wishing to be born."

The context of this sentiment was that, after the 2nd World War, the US was the most confident and most powerful nation on Earth. Nothing was outside of our grasp -- conquering disease, hunger, even space itself.

A series of event, Vietnam, Kennedy Assasination, etc, caused some people in the US to lose confidence in themselves and, vicarioiusly, in their nation. Someone who has their confidence shattered hates to see others with confidence. They believe the optomistic are dreamers and having optimism is a dangerous thing.

The 1st and 2nd World Wars did the same thing to Europe -- robbing it of any vitality or optimism it had going into the last century.

You might ask why people can't get over this. It's not a simple answer, but think of the ancestors of slaves. They cannot believe they have a chance to succeed because they weren't allowed to succeed over 100 years ago.

People, some people, believe that once a dream is lost, it can never be regained -- so why even try.

The good news is, these people don't contribute in any meaningful way to society. These people aren't needed. They don't build bridges or buildings. They don't cure diseases or solve thorny issues. They piss and moan and "attempt" to drag everyone else to their level.

You simply encountered a couple of what's known as "coastal moonbats" - a species found on the left and right coasts primarily, and mostly in the middle/north on the right coast.

I'd not be so kind and just ask'em why they're here then when the grass is so obviously greener on the other side? Are they masochists?

love those bubbleheads...
just goes to show you have naively stooopid they are but also with a total lack of knowledge as to what the United States of America is all about.
being this was in hoboken, take them over to the cuban sector and let a few exiles explain cuba101 to them and see if they can sort it out.

Nice article...very well written. Personally, I think running down America is a trend among people who are unhappy with their lives and have a romanticized version of what life in other countries is like.

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