Although it has been popular to spout anti-American sentiments abroad for some time now, the recent upsurge in Americans themselves contributing to this dialogue is both embarrassing and extremely damaging. This has been a common practice since World War I, when other Western powers had to acknowledge American superiority in order to criticize the U.S. as a ruthless hegemon. While it may befit other powers to surreptitiously badmouth the hand that feeds them, when those who call the U.S. home start commiserating, it becomes reckless and destructive.
Among so many other unflattering features of the American caricature that have been constructed abroad – including the proclivity for sex and fast food and a population of over-indulgent ignoramuses – there has also been a tendency to ascribe selfishness to Americans. Unfortunately, the view that Americans are “stingy,” as was the claim of Jan Egeland, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, is held by many foreign elites, despite its absurdity. Instead of being selfish, Americans are the most giving people in the world.
Despite the inordinate taxes we pay to support government benefit programs – roughly $1 trillion – U.S. citizens still give a larger portion of their income to causes and charities than any other populace. Americans spend roughly a quarter-trillion dollars a year – more than the entire GDP of most countries – sustaining the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army and local charities and universities. Donations in foreign aid are equally as impressive; in 2004, private American international charity topped $71 billion – almost four times U.S. government foreign aid and probably much more effective. Bill and Melinda Gates alone gave more money to fight malaria and AIDS in Africa than many nations have.
That America’s superior charity is little known and less celebrated can largely be attributed to a bias in the media that refuses to acknowledge generosity in big business. Despite their bad rap, U.S. oil companies, drug companies and Wal-Mart have been among the most generous contributors to charities concerning 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami in Asia. Because these companies are regularly vilified in the media – attacked for “windfall profits” or “anti-unionism” – their generous contributions are rarely acknowledged.
Anti-Americanism in other parts of the world can often be attributed to the general international ingratitude and defiant irresponsibility that accompanies the existence of hegemony. Whether it is fueled by international resentment at American affluence or because we make an easy scapegoat, those scrutinizing U.S. actions are overeager to attribute them to imperialist ambitions.
Far worse than this kind of speculation abroad, the self-loathing that Hollywood, academia and politicians have indulged in of late is appalling. Expressing empathy for our attackers is not only ill-conceived but it is also dangerous insofar as it undermines our strength in international dialogue and encourages the gross misperceptions of American strength and character where those misperceptions are most precarious for us. We continue to ignore the intellectual enablers of anti-Americanism at our peril.
Demonizing American leaders and everything they do becomes not only tedious, but ineffective when the offenses of other nations are ignored or excused but the United States is continuously singled out for condemnation. Why is the outrage over Russia’s war in Chechnya stifled? China’s brutal suppression of Tibet? The murdering of Christians by Arabs in Sudan? Where is the anti-Zimbabwe sentiment that should be a product of the state-organized terror against white farmers in Zimbabwe?
When it is criticism aimed at improving the current system or exercising your democratic right to scrutinize and question the decisions of elected leaders, it is a productive tribute to America’s freedom of expression. However, when anti-Americanism is espoused to undermine the efficacy of current efforts and at the expense of America’s place in the world, it is ignorant and insincere.