The train rolled on toward Frankfort with my fellow passengers, who I discovered were two Germans and an Australian, wondering if this American was going to continue talking, but I figured that if the man from Oz was fronting the brew, the least I could do was perform. It was not really a performance. It was a bursting bubble which had once contained and restricted expression when non-Americans were present. Perhaps it was pride of country that had limited my past replies to What Is Wrong With America?, or perhaps it was the result of the two most recent presidential elections I had worked on, and was now confronted with the fact that the Change I had hoped for was not going to occur. Obama may have twice been the right choice, but the system had been rigged like a carny game of ring-toss-on-the-bottle. So I told them more.
"I was born into an America that was taught to fear. My father and uncles were part of the Greatest Generation that fought in Europe and the South Pacific to eliminate one fear. The earliest fear I can remember was the Soviet Union which, we were told, was run by dictatorial communists who wanted to dominate the world, so we had to build countless nuclear weapons that could destroy an enemy, and likely the entire world, many times over to deter an attack upon the Free World. We had an appropriate acronym for this policy which was called MAD, for Mutually Assured Destruction. Tens of thousands of Americans died fighting in a war in Korea because we had to fear the Communist Chinese Red Hordes. The Soviet surrogate, Cuba, had to be feared, so it became American policy to overthrow the Cuban government by supporting the Bay of Pigs invasion, the establishment of Operation Mongoose, and the eventual naval blockade called the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"The Vietnam War became an equally large reason to fear the Soviets and Chinese, because the fall of Vietnam would result in a domino effect, culminating in the Vietnamese dominating the world, or at least Vanuatu, Brunei, and the Maldives. Twice the number of Americans died in Vietnam as had died in Korea. The U.S. government knew that the Vietnamese had fought the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, and the French again, and despite no indication of wanting to dominate anyone but themselves, Americans had to fear them. As far back as 1950, the U.S. was supplying funds to the French in their Indochina war. Funny isn't it, that Vietnam is now a welcome American trading partner.
"After Vietnam, the U.S. still had the Soviets and Chinese to fear. We soon lost the Chinese when Nixon visited the Great Wall in 1972. But, another fear was created when the Shah of Iran, an ally of the U.S., was replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Now the U.S. had not only Arabs, a whole-nuther race of people to fear, but also an unusual religion, Islam. Ignoring the fact that Iranians are mainly Caucasians and not Arabs, the religion thing was a bonus for generating fear, because it was a completely foreign (read: non-Christian) religion.
"Then the Soviet Union disintegrated, and Communist China turned into Business China, so the Arab / Islam fear was encouraged. After the 9/11 attack, fear of Arabs and Islam grew into the fear we know today. Then fear of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.
"Of course there had been other fears along the way. The Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, all kept the American military busy and well-trained. And these were only the "foreign country" fears to which Americans have been constantly subjected. There were the domestic fears of black, brown, and red people. Keep Americans fearing that all their problems are caused by others, and you end up with Germany in the 1920s and 1930s."
I went on for a bit, but thought that they had had enough. I was hungry so I got something to eat from the food cart, and saw that the Aussie had an issue of the Australian magazine The Monthly from October last with the cover article by Peter Conrad titled "Obama: Too Good For America?" Since the election was past, I asked what he thought of the article, which the Germans had apparently also read. So they told me.
It seems that, as Sally Field would say, Europeans really, really like Obama. They recognize that none of the EU countries are as multicultural as America, and none have the percentage of their citizens that are of different races as the U.S.--African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans. None have the number of first and second generation immigrants that the U.S. has, and no one could imagine someone of a different race being elected to the highest political office in their country. Yet they feel that Americans understand little of the world outside of their own country, and when they do speak of the outside world, it usually is stated in terms of America's control of the course of world events. To Europeans this is heard as the American "might makes right" philosophy. Unlike the second President Bush, thank goodness, Obama has moved America back into the world community of nations.
I had to agree that Obama has a more realistic comprehension of the present position of the U.S. in the world. After reading the Peter Conrad article later, I had to also agree that Obama understands that there is no longer any part of the world that is non-American. While American culture is omnipresent, and America is militarily as powerful as it ever has been, the U.S. does not seem to be as threatening with Obama as the President. At least that was my new friends' opinion.
Perhaps Obama is too good for America. What they had the most difficulty with was the number of Americans who, it seemed to them, were greatly uninformed and supportive of the extreme right-wing of the Republican party. They were amazed that so many Americans could not accept climate change, could have such archaic attitudes concerning the rights of women, minorities, and the poor, and especially be so supportive of the growing income inequality in America.
"So," I said, "I suppose that you have not heard of the concept of 'American Exceptionalism' have you?" I had better hurry, as the train was getting closer to Frankfort.