WHY WE SUCK is well-stated in Robert Wright’s review of books on anti-Americanism. This bit pretty much sums up why we can’t all get along, whether we’re talking about conflicts of nationality, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, weight, baseball teams, or even musical preferences:
In other words: We’re not obnoxiously evangelistic, just obnoxiously self-involved. So even if Bush doesn’t reflect the real America, and is replaced by someone who does, we’ll still be in trouble. At least, we’ll be in trouble if much of the problem is indeed, as Sweig argues, the longstanding “near inability of the United States to see its power from the perspective of the powerless.” Changing that will require not a leader worthy of the people, but a leader willing to lead the people.
Sweig complains that “Americans think of themselves as kings and queens of the world’s prom.” But, actually, we can’t escape that role, at least for now. In wealth and power we are No. 1. The question is whether we’ll be the typical prom king or queen — resented by most at the bottom of the social hierarchy and many in the middle — or instead the rare prom king or queen who manages to be really, truly, you know, popular.
Americans may be bad at doing what Sweig recommends — “seeing ourselves as others see us” — but we’re not alone in this. People in general have trouble putting themselves in the shoes of people whose circumstances differ from theirs. That’s why the world is such a mess — and why succeeding at this task would qualify as real moral progress.