Are Americans as stupid as the rest of the world thinks we are?
Two conversations – one with a work colleague and one with my daughter – left me pondering that question recently.
The colleague told me about a visit to our newsroom last summer by a group of foreign journalists and government officials. Why isn’t the American press covering Donald Trump more seriously, they asked. This guy could be your next president.
No way, we all thought back then. He’s just a reality TV star. We aren’t that stupid. The foreigners weren’t so sure.
My daughter, a resident advisor at her college, recently groaned while mentioning that she’d likely get additional foreign exchange students to supervise this fall.
When I asked why that’s a bad thing, she said the foreign exchange kids tend to presume Americans are stupid unless proven otherwise. They assume Americans aren’t as well-traveled, or as fluent in foreign languages or as knowledgeable about world cultures.
I said what any Good American would: Why don’t they stay home, then?
Oh, she replied, they don’t think our colleges are stupid. Just the people.
To foreigners, Trump is the orange-tinted avatar of American excess – loud, boorish, money-addicted, always desperately needing to be seen as first and best in everything.
German-born, Harvard-educated political theorist Yascha Mounk has said that in Germany, people are tempted to see the Trump phenomenon as a symptom of a “uniquely American disease.”
“In no other democracy in the world, it is said, could voters be so openly motivated by greed, show so little concern for less-privileged fellow citizens and be so politically ignorant,” he wrote in an article last fall. “Only in hate-filled, under-educated ‘Ami-land’ could someone like Trump be successful.”
Yes, you read that right, history buffs. That’s Germany talking. (And ‘Ami’ is apparently German slang for America or Americans).
I know you’re offended, and rightfully so. Stereotypes tend to be unfair, and offensive. Maybe, like America, The Donald is being stereotyped. Maybe, as his daughter Ivanka Trump recently suggested, he’s more than the me-me-me cartoon caricature.
Then again, there is that new Washington Post story about how Trump routinely called up New York reporters in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. How he masqueraded as a press aide for himself named “John Miller” or “John Barron.” How this “spokesman” bragged about how great his boss was with the ladies and with money, all to burnish the Trump image.
Now, what would you call it if people didn’t find that behavior bizarre, troubling, and perhaps even disqualifying, in a potential President of the United States?
Pretty sure the foreigners and I know just the word that fits.
Eric: 704-358-5145; firstname.lastname@example.org