Thursday, February 11, 2016

Marco Rubio's rejection of the world outside the United States is athrowback to "America First"

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio made a fool of himself in the latest Republican Party debate but in repeating his soundbite (as above) he revealed what is a key part of his pitch - America is not like the rest of the world. This bizarre and nationalistic claim was not a random accidental cry. It was pre-scripted and rehearsed as his opponents were quick to claim. It is also, in the minds of many Americans, not just true but a good thing.

American politicians like Rubio (he's far from alone) reflect the dominant American belief that America is Beautiful and the rest of the world dangerous. Probably full of Muslims and other dangerous and heathen non-Christian folk. A minority of Americans travels beyond their shores and an even smaller minority knows much about the world outside the home of the American Dream. Which means that in key areas where the rest of the Western world has moved on (Gun laws or Capital Punishment for example) America is stuck in the past. But reference the rest of the Western world and the response is likely to be, as Mr Rubio puts it, "We don't want to be like the rest of the world".

The most significant change in the post WW2 world has been the internationalisation of the planet. Fuelled by the transport and communications revolutions we are, if we choose to, able to travel almost anywhere we want. And when we travel we learn - often subliminally - about other cultures and other ways of doing things. Some of us are luckier than others in this respect of course. I once had a job in Shell which in the course of a year or two took me to around 50 different countries. Whilst doing this I read a book "Riding the Waves of Culture" which has become, rightly, essential reading for anyone engaged in an international enterprise. The core message is that countries and cultures are different and that if you want to be successful you better try and understand that! An obvious message you might think - but add to it the opportunity to learn as you travel and you will not only be more sensitive but better at what you do.

The problem with Mr Rubio and all the others who peddle "America is the greatest country on Earth" meme is that if you think that you will never either understand or learn. The "American Way" becomes the only way. The great hotelier Conrad Hilton created his international chain based on the principle that each hotel, from Paris to Peru, would be an American oasis in a strange and hostile land. Cruise ships today do the same. Whatever your port of call you return at night to the cultural comfort of your ship! Better than not traveling at all you might think, and I agree. And if as a result of a day in Naples or Nagasaki you see things which challenge your established assumptions then all to the good.

I love the United States of America and can quite understand that its extraordinary physical diversity offers such variety that many Americans will not feel the need to leave its shores. Many of the world's greatest cities and National Parks (etc.) are in the US and they are unmissable travel destinations. But the overriding culture and attitudes are American everywhere. Watch a News programme on the television and if there is any news from abroad it will come long after the traffic reports or the sports update. Only a third of Americans have a passport which means that the perception of other countries of the majority of non-travellers is conditioned substantially by the media. How else could Donald Trump’s mad call to ban Muslims from entering the United States be supported by at least half of American adults?

America could have a world role which extends beyond their economic and military clout – which is, of course, considerable. But their at best ambivalent attitude to the United Nations shows that at the heart of the American psyche is an indifference to the rest of the world, unless they perceive it to be a threat. Over the past twenty years the United States is more known for its bellicosity that for its role as a peacemaker. There was historically always for some an “America First” mentality which eschewed the case for the world’s most prosperous nation to play a world role. Mario Rubio’s comments are consistent with this. If you are so certain that what the United States does is right that you don’t want in any way to be “like” the rest of the world then you are unlikely to be open to new ideas – if they are foreign.   


This graphic helps illustrate my point about the lack of an international perspective of US citizens:


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home