How to Talk to Non-Americans About What’s Happening in America
This week’s events in Washington, DC have been greeted with shock and horror by world leaders around the world. Images of the US Capitol building, besieged by an angry mob of right-wing extremists, drew a rebuke from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and the coup attempt was rejected by the leaders of Iran, Sweden and New Zealand. Israel and beyond.
These scenes have helped tarnish the public image of the United States to the point that international discourse has focused on the question of whether American democracy can withstand such attacks. However, for many Americans – many of whom tend to disregard such events in so-called “Third World” countries – the chaos of the environment came as a shock.
In the United States, politicians, media representatives, and ordinary Americans often support our institutions as infallible and unshakable, bound by sacred laws that cannot be reversed. Chaos and violence break out on the streets of foreign cities. The coup attempts wreak havoc and bloodshed abroad, but not here, where the law reigns. But Wednesday showed that we cannot value our country so highly, especially among non-American friends who may want to demystify what is happening in the States at the moment.
If you ever find yourself in a conversation with a non-American friend or family member about the current situation in the United States, here’s how to approach it.
Explain the myth of American exceptionalism
If you’ve been drinking American cool-Aid for a long time, you’ve bought into American exceptionalism – a long-ingrained myth that the United States is a righteous force for good in this world and thus worthy of asserting its influence wherever democracy and civil liberties may be threatened. … This is, frankly, rhetorical nonsense, but it nonetheless colors the perceptions of many ordinary Americans about other countries.
If a non-American asks where this idea came from, you can also turn to the US Constitution, which preaches certain inalienable rights and equality for all (if you are, of course, a white person who owns land). This idea is firmly rooted in our national psyche throughout history. Various military efforts such as both World Wars – President Woodrow Wilson is known to have proclaimed during World War I that America makes “the world safe for democracy” – in addition to Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” speech, this concept.
Of course, any non-American who regularly follows international news knows that Wednesday’s events were completely unprecedented. But the shock and anxiety that the Americans expressed in relation to our compatriots acquire more meaning if you understand that we have been repeatedly told that something like this cannot happen here.
Explain why these events really make sense
It seems that pro-American dogma was shattered on Wednesday, but this particular event was not unprecedented, especially if you examine it in a recent context. If you want to demystify exactly how the siege on Wednesday was carried out, look for nothing but simple facts: the soon to step down president repeatedly falsely claimed that the 2020 election was rigged due to rampant voter fraud; a powerful network of Internet conspiracy theorists and influencers spread lies on the Internet, where it often received over-the-air networks and websites; and a legion of Americans who believe they have been robbed of a free democratic process by a nefarious clique of elites, this president and other lawmakers have called for a fight.
In a sense, Wednesday was the culmination of a long, coordinated effort to undermine the 2020 election results. The outrage and distrustful responses we have heard in response from smarter legislators and media representatives – at least to some extent – stem from the deeply ingrained sense of exclusivity that Americans feel about themselves and our country. For non-Americans, it might make more sense with this lens, although it is perhaps equally perplexing.