| 02 January 2003
|Dixie Chicks and Noam Chomsky: Two Sides of Americanism & Anti-Americanism in the USA|
Much like “anti-Americanism,” the word “American” carries a number of meanings. In the colony of Puerto Rico, for example, using the term “American” as a point of reference only for the United States is often regarded as a piece of chauvinistic arrogance. Are not Puerto Ricans “Americans” also, they argue—much like Chileans, Brazilians and others of the South are. On that island colony, nationalists and leftists oppose U.S. imperialism, plain and simple. By any common sense usage, that struggle could not be defined as “anti-American.”
Similarly, in Mexico, the fight is against Yankee Imperialism, and there is little talk on the left of anti-Americanism. Among Canadian left-wingers, by contrast, the term “anti-Americanism” is often used to express a desire to protect home industries from U.S. corporate domination, as well as the hope of finding some breathing space for their own national character. But such sentiment is neither belligerent nor widespread. The average Canadian is simply happy to see visitors from their neighbor to the south, and to sell them everything from grain to pharmaceuticals. Canadians particularly enjoy the success that their homegrown cultural figures—singers such as Alanis Morrissette or authors like Margaret Atwood—have in the States. How can they be anti-American?
Nevertheless, ordinary people as well as political elites in the United States sense a palpable “anti-American” sentiment in much of Asia Minor and Continental Europe. And the feeling has infamously been reciprocated. At the height of the conflict between the Bush Administration and the French and German governments over Iraq, for example, pomme frits, or French fries as they are popularly know, were re-dubbed by some overly patriotic souls as “freedom fries” to express displeasure with all things French. When asked, 60% of Americans surveyed confessed to having negative feelings about the French.
Nevertheless, it was Americans who felt as if they were the aggrieved party. To gauge international attitudes, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press assayed opinions about the United States in twenty countries during the period immediately after the cessation of major warfare in Iraq. It found that population majorities in 13 countries held negative attitudes towards the United States. The majority of that negative sentiment, however, it claimed was directed at President Bush rather than “America in general.” Despite drawing that very important distinction, mainstream Americans concluded that anti-Americanism “in general” was rising.
On the Left, the conclusion was exactly the opposite. The Nation magazine did its own assessment of anti-Americanism in Europe. It began with a useful definition, roughly akin to the distinction Pew found between Bush and Americans in general. Borrowing from an Italian political scientist, the Nation decided that the effect of anti-Americanism “is to disapprove of the United States for what it is rather than what it does.” With that standard as its guidepost, the Nation found much opposition to the current government and foreign policies of the United States, but not much directed at the American people as such. It noted the popularity in Europe of distinctively American cultural figures such as Bruce Springsteen, Woody Allen, and Julia Roberts. Similarly, it referenced the fact that “U.S.-European trade remains the largest trade and investment relationship in the world.” Thus the Nation reported that: “from the nonfascist right to the noncommunist left, you find virtually no support for the tone or substance of the current Administration’s policies. Neither, however, will you find much of anything that might be fairly labeled anti-Americanism.” The descendants of “once powerful Marxist parties” were outside the reporter’s range.
By bracketing public opinion in Europe in this fashion, the Nation’s reporter excluded political terrain that most needed investigating. What should be thought of the French Front National, for example, which occasionally polls number three in national elections and mixes anti-Arab racism with a subtler anti-Semitism and a forthright anti-Americanism in its program. What of the tens and hundreds of thousands of left-wing activists who pour into the streets and fight the police as a protest of a trans-national capitalism? The questions must be asked: Are some opponents of U.S. imperialism also fundamentally anti-American? Do some anti-Americans serve as a core anti-imperialist opposition? The answer is “yes” on both counts. Neither the fascist right nor the anti-globalization movements are marginal phenomenon. Yet, the Nation’s inquiry specifically excluded the anti-globalization movement from reportorial consideration. It was too “complicated.” It was a telling omission, given that globalism and anti-globalism have otherwise loomed so large in the magazine’s pages. Indeed, specifically among anti-globalists, “anti-Americanism” can be a form of cheap anti-imperialism. They can cheer and jump at a Springsteen concert and still regard the American national character as the source of all that is Evil. As a consequence, the Left in the United States remains uninformed of this phenomenon, and without an independent calibration of “anti-Americanism” among its European counterparts. It is blind in its left eye.
Not so the political right inside the United States. It virtually owns the topic and often uses the term like a hand grenade thrown at left-wing targets. Conservatives of both the so-called “paleo” stripe and the neo-conservative tendency employ the oncept, although to slightly different ends.