Why do so many countries hate America?

  • One needs to distinguish among hatred for a given United States government, some Americans and all Americans. Also, these hatreds wax and wane over time.

    Russia as the Good Guy

    After the Second World War the United States became one of two remaining superpowers in the world. I think in some ways the people of many countries found Russians more sympathetic.

    Strip away the authoritarianism and in some ways the Russians were understandable. They had an old tradition of collective approaches to society. This resonated well in some ethnically-based, old countries, both in the developed world and in the developing world. Many Russians had accepted, even before the Soviet era, that the state should exercise control over the national culture. The Czarist governments were heavily involved with the Russian Orthodox Church, a powerful controller of Russian values and a repository of much of Russia’s culture.

    The Soviet Union also was able to present itself as an impoverished country, that had suffered massively during WWWII, and was determinedly using state-controlled infrastructural growth to rise up. They claimed they would use forced egalitarianism to distribute the benefits of growth in a fair way to all. Of course much of this was a propaganda effort but there was just enough truth to make it credible.

    To people in economically stagnant, social class ridden countries, with kleptocratic governments, this had to be attractive. Post-Stalin Russia was the opposite of an isolationist society. It was doing outreach everywhere. The outreach wasn’t just to the elites of various countries, it was to the masses.

    Yes, a lot of the outreach propaganda was nonsense but put yourself in the shoes of an average person in a country with no economic progression, no better future in sight, and governments and elites that were brutal and impossible to dislodge by peaceful means, and didn’t even attempt to present a vision of progress. What did they have to lose?

    America as the Incomprehensible Bad Guy

    America, by contrast, had built up a constitutional, economic and social system that really was unique, to the point that it was too unique to export. Most nation-states exist to a greater or lesser extent on the basis of ethnicity. Only a few of them became prosperous by seizing the resources of the indigenous population. Only a few of them employed mass slavery as a means of economic development. Other countries have racism but for a prosperous country the USA is extreme.

    Other countries have constitutions but the USA has the only constitution that asserts the near absolute sovereignty of the individual over the state.

    It was naive of various American governments to imagine that this wasn’t highly visible. The USA never successfully exported its socio-economic culture to anywhere else. Worse, particularly as the mass media became more pervasive, the failings of the American model became much more visible. I remembering the Detroit race riots of the 1960’s, smoke rising up while Canadiansed from the safety of peaceful Windsor, Ontario. I don’t think Canadian regard for the United States ever recovered. Gordon Lightfoot, a popular Canadian singer of that time summed it up:

    Canadians have more of a countervailing aspect to their impressions of America, or more particularly, individual Americans, then most other nationalities do. They interact a lot with individual Americans, family friends, customers, Americans they interact with on holiday. The majority of Canadians speak English, so they can interact on a person to person basis. Other nationalities don’t have anything like these opportunities. They see a national model they can’t identify with, see the USA failing against that model, and get very negative about the USA and maybe Americans as a whole.

    Consider the current situation. American Border Patrol officials are separating undocumented immigrants from their small children and are locking them up in former Walmarts. Americans dispute about it and many Americans strongly oppose it. However, foreigners see the TV coverage and note, almost all of those kids are coloured brown. Most of the population of the world is different shades of brown. The visual impact of an individual American decrying the situation is very small and probably doesn’t get reported overseas, in either the traditional or social media. Instead the world sees an America that puts children in cages.

    And admittedly, there is a large amount of jealousy about America’s wealth and power in the world. But there is also fear. What if you know your country is irritating the United States administration? Your country isn’t democratic. There is nothing you can do in your own society to the effect of saying “let’s back off”. You are helpless and you don’t know when an American intervention will create an Iraq-type situation. You feel fear. You feel anger.

    You Can’t Be Isolationist, Interventionist and a World Leader at the Same Time

    I have heard the USA described as a colonial nation that doesn’t care about its colonies. At least partly it is true.

    If the USA wants to be an interventionist, leader country, the largest part of the population has to buy into it. However, they don’t. So many Americans, including a fairly large number on Quora, or frankly, Americans I have met in person, believe strongly that only the United States is their world.

    This is a bad situation. It leaves individual American administrations, and American business interests, to deal with the world as they like.

    Worse, when you get an American administration dealing aggressively with other countries, a large part of the American population has no idea why the United States is getting a hostile reaction. Then they resent it when the hostility happens and vocalize their resentment loudly.

    The current NAFTA situation is an interesting example. It has taken very extreme behaviour by the Trump Administration to stimulate the interest of anyone in the United States who does not deal with foreign trade relations, or studies it for a hobby, to take an interest. But, how much can a lot of Americans understand, when they want strongly to believe that there is nothing out there? They see the United States, both its administration and its people, being attacked. They don’t understand because they don’t know. That’s not what’s happening. But either an American President or individual Americans are provoking real hostility from others. Donald Trump is extreme but this is not the first time this has happened.

    The Highly Vocal, Very, Very Ugly American

    It has been a very long-term fact in the United States. A majority of Americans are decent people, but there is a minority who are highly irrational, mean and very prone to violence. Then there are Americans who, one way or another, who have no problem with their behaviour.

    How many examples, group and individual, do I have to cite? There is slave owners and overseers, the Ku Klux Clan, oligarchic business magnates, Woodrow Wilson, in fact a racist even in terms of his time, the uncaring elite of the Great Depression, American apologists for Nazism, George Wallace, Bull Connor, evangelical Americans who attach themselves to political that no real follower of Jesus could ever accept, Joseph McCarthy, the American military who lied about bombing Cambodia, American intelligence agencies that lied about Iran Contra, Richard Nixon, alt-right Americans who are simply Neo-Nazis, bizarre Americans who believe in chemtrail theories and do open carry to Walmart, Harvey Weinstein and many others.

    For many years America has been bombarding the world with images that convince others that a lot of Americans are very bad people. However, I think the advance of mass media into the developing world has made the impression much worse. Even in the developing world, there are large numbers of people who have TV sets, at least some computer access and smart phones. The international image of average Americans is getting more and more hateful.

    Individual Americans Have No Place to Hide

    When foreigners see TV images of the child detention camps they see individual Border Patrol officials doing things they despise. When they see alt-right Americans marching in parades, they see individual Americans with hate-contorted faces. When they see individual Americans spewing out insults at other countries they see a bad individual. When they see Paul John Manafort Jr. being put in jail, they see a bad person who was warned not to try to influence jurors but was foolish enough to do it.

    I have talked about why individual foreigners may hate an American administration, its military or its intelligence agencies. However,when individual Americans or groups of Americans behave in bad ways, they see another human being who is appalling. Being an American does not confer any cloak of anonymity.

    Can The Hate be Changed?

    I regret to say it but I don’t think so. I think that, for the forseeable future, the hate will wax, not wane.

    The United States and many of its individuals have created a bad image in much of the world. It would be very difficult to reverse so many years of the accrued hostility that has been built up.

    Also, I think there are basic issues in American life that can make the USA and its citizens hated. Too many Americans favour an isolationist stance for the USA and for themselves in their personal lives, but then become angry when the USA does not get its way in international relations.

    There are so many Americans who appear to be having miserable personal lives and then draw on their national pride to replace other, non-existent sources of personal self-esteem. This is sometimes referred to as “collective narcissism”.

    There is a very vocal and visible minority of Americans who, no matter what cultural model you apply are simply, very bad people.

    And then there are the large minority of Americans who aren’t bad people at all. They aren’t organized in any way that would help them present themselves to non-Americans.

    No, it’s not fair, but most of life isn’t. Presenting yourself to foreigners isn’t “fair”. If you cannot do it in a positive way, then others will hate you, fair or not.

    Martin Levine

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