The rest of the world often entertains itself being annoyed with the United States. The opinion polls often show it.
But that’s nothing like American opinion of the global village. The inevitable experts say American scorn for foreign contempt is rooted in a fierce but amenable independence and an inner mettle.
“What we think of ourselves does not depend on the opinions of others,” says Matthew Spalding, director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation. “And that is what it means to be self-governing, as our founders originally intended. It gives us great confidence.”
“We don’t ignore world opinion, but we don’t allow it to determine our fate. At our core, we have intellectual and moral independence in the very largest sense.”
Poll numbers support that, too.
Almost six out of 10 Americans, according to a recent ABC News poll, are not particularly concerned that the relationships with France, Germany and Russia were bruised during the war against Iraq.
Two-thirds of Americans are happy with their country’s role in the world, according to a Gallup poll, and 64 percent think that our way of life must be protected “against foreign influence,” according to a Pew Research poll.
Though there was hubbub recently over an American boycott of French products — “freedom fries” and all that — one poll offers a reality check: In a Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey of 1,001 persons in late April, 67 percent said they don’t even buy French products in the first place.
There also appears to be some irony: U.S. foreign policy, pop culture and attitude irk the world. But the world still waits at the door.
Indeed, a Carnegie poll in November of more than 1,000 foreign-born immigrants found that 80 percent of them, given the chance to “do it again,” would come to the United States; 96 percent said they were happy; and 80 percent called this nation “a unique country that stands for something special in the world.”
U.S. relations with the world are rife with complexities, though. People worldwide “actually like Americans, and they continually think of us, yet we barely recognize they exist,” notes Mark Hertsgaard, author of “The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World.”
The attitude has changed a little after September 11, “but there’s still a self-centeredness. We see everything through the prism of our own experience. We’ve been self-contained for a long time. But we’re not the only country to do that. I can’t think of a more self-centered nation than China.”
Mr. Hertsgaard says the “if they don’t like it, they can lump it” mind-set held by so many Americans could imperil the war on terrorism, as well as the global economy and other challenges, insisting that “we can’t do it alone.”
But he concedes that the U.S.-centered attitude has a positive side. It stokes the conviction that “we can change things, that we can do better, that life can be different.”
Magnified by the war on Iraq, U.S. ire with waffling allies and rogue governments was particularly sharp earlier this year, prompting the New York Times, among others, to examine the “anti-Europeanism” phenomenon in the country.
“The current stereotype of Europeans in easily summarized,” wrote Timothy Garton Ash in February. “Europeans are wimps. They are weak, petulant, hypocritical, disunited, sometimes anti-Semitic and often anti-American appeasers … their values and their spines have dissolved in a lukewarm bath of multilateral, transnational, secular and postmodern fudge.”
But Americans can’t seem to nurture such a grudge for long. A Fox News poll of 900 voters released June 6 found that 61 percent were ready to “restore a friendly relationship” with France.
Things are still pretty acrimonious elsewhere, however.
This week, it was the British Broadcasting Corp.’s turn to poke at America. A BBC poll of 11,000 persons in 11 countries released Tuesday said 65 percent of those surveyed thought Americans were “arrogant,” and 85 percent said Americans were not “humble.”
But 73 percent also described America as “free.”
“Open your eyes, you naysayers, and look at the American dream as I did,” one Briton-turned-American told the BBC in protest on Tuesday. “Yes, it works for a quarter billion people.”