Two Americas, One American

Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes of the Pew Research Center have written a book, America Against the World, which explores findings from the Pew Global Attitudes Project’s series of international surveys that highlight the role American values play in the worldwide rise in anti-Americanism in the 21st century. The authors examine the question of whether partisan divides have undermined the concept of a coherent American nation, distinctive in its core beliefs from other nations around the world. Here are a few brief excerpts from this very interesting study:

Ample data and analysis paint a portrait of America as a nation unified and exceptional in its optimism, individualism, patriotism, religiosity, and faith in technology. But is this a fair representation of the opinions and values of a large, very heterogeneous country. Is there another America of substantial size and importance ignored in this depiction? Perhaps one peopled by cadres of closet Europhiles?

Quite so, contends the British academic and columnist Timothy Garton Ash. In his most recent book, Free World, Garton Ash argues that there are in fact “two Americas,” whose borders track the “red-blue” divide now familiar from election-night TV maps. Moreover, he maintains that “blue” America — those more liberal states, primarily on the two coasts — often turn out to be a “quite European shade of pink.”

In a similar vein, political scientists Ronald Asmus, Philip P. Everts, and Pierangelo Isernia assert that “the real gap across the Atlantic is between American conservatives and the European mainstream.” Analyzing findings from a 2004 survey sponsored by the German Marshall Fund, they trace the source of this gap to different attitudes on key international issues: the importance of NATO and the United Nations; the use of force as a foreign policy tool; and the impact of the invasion of Iraq on the terrorism threat.

No doubt, political divisions between Americans have sharpened in recent years, with national security issues emerging as a major focal point of partisan differences. Pew Research Center polls have demonstrated the rapid dissipation of the spirit of unity that prevailed in the country — and indeed across much of the world — in the wake of the September 11 attacks. By some measures, the gaps between American political parties on issues such as the war on terror and the use of military force are greater than in any earlier period covered by systematic polling. The most that can be concluded from the Pew data is that the views of Democrats, and to a lesser degree independents, are somewhat closer to the French, Germans, Italians, and, especially, the British than they are to Republicans with respect to select national security issues — though not with respect to the use of force. Partisan divisions are also clear with regard to the efficacy of government and the breadth and depth of the social safety net. Still, after American opinions are sliced and diced and compared to European views, the data do not support the notion that either members of the Democratic Party or residents of the coastal regions of the country would feel more at home on the other side of the Atlantic.

So even as partisan differences have escalated in the United States in recent years, the divisions among Americans are not great enough to contend that there is no coherent American point of view on many issues. Certainly with respect to core personal values, the differences in the United States are minimal across partisan, regional, and class lines when compared against European views. Democrats, as members of America’s left-of-center party, stand closer than Republicans to the publics of the social democracies of Western Europe when it comes to the role of government in society and the extent of the social safety net. Nevertheless, Democrats as a whole are more conservative than Europeans. The same is true with respect to the national security issues that have been so polarizing in the United States during the Bush years.

In this regard, it is worth emphasizing that the divide between Republicans and Democrats on the use of force to protect the country revolves around how to use force, not whether to use it. The gap between parties on America’s leadership role in the world is not huge. And despite their loyalty to President Bush, Republicans endorse his call for promoting democracy around the world only marginally more than do Democrats. Members of both parties agree that it would be a nice thing to spread democracy, but both give it very low priority relative to other international objectives for the United States.

These attitudes reflect the skepticism and pragmatic realism that are important qualities in the American character. The United States is, at heart, a nation of realistic centrists, with the important caveat that the middle of the American national road runs considerably to the right of the European mainstream. Most Americans are wary of ideologues of the left or of the right, and rarely inclined to impose their personal beliefs upon others even when their moral and religious beliefs are strongly held. In the end, Americans are far more alike than different from each other, and still exceptional in being distinct from Europeans by most measures.

And, in a description of the book, the following has been said:

The precipitous rise in anti-Americanism is startling. To understand why the world has turned against the United States, the Pew Research Center, under the leadership of Andrew Kohut, has undertaken an unprecedented survey of world opinion–more than 91,000 respondents in fifty nations. In America Against the World, Kohut and Bruce Stokes unveil the sobering and surprising findings.

America’s image is at a low ebb: where once it was considered the champion of democracy, America is now seen as a self-absorbed, militant hyperpower. More than 70 percent of non-Americans say that the world would be improved if America faced a rival military power, and about half the citizens of Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco think that suicide attacks on Americans in Iraq are justified.

Where does this anti-Americanism come from? Kohut and Stokes find that what pushed the world away is American exceptionalism–our individualism and our go-it-alone attitude. And it doesn’t help that Americans’ pervasive religiosity and deep patriotism are often exaggerated by America’s critics.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright argues in her foreword that we cannot stop the spread of anti-Americanism without truly understanding who we are. America Against the World provides the insight to take that step.

If you click the headline you will be able to read a much more extensive excerpt from this thought provoking book.

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