The Right Coast
August 12, 2005
By Maimon Schwarzschild
Clive Davis is right, unfortunately, about British attitudes to the US, which are ambivalent (to put it charitably):
[T]here's no mistaking the hostility to American values among large sections of the British population. Conservative commentators in the US have got plenty of mileage out of jibes at French anti-Americanism; the unpleasant truth is that Britain is home to a similar phenomenon. Last October an ICM opinion survey registered a sharp increase in hostility to the US. A startling 73% of British voters felt that the US exercised too much influence around the globe. As the Guardian reported at the time: "A majority in Britain also believe that US democracy is no longer a model for others. But perhaps a more startling finding from the Guardian/ICM poll is that a majority of British voters -- 51% -- say that they believe that American culture is threatening our own culture."Anyone who spends time in Britain -- I've just returned a few days ago -- will recognise the truth of Davis' report.
What is to be done, as V. I. Lenin so plangently asked? Davis criticises the Bush administration's public relations, especially where Europeans are concerned. And no doubt, American public diplomacy in Europe (and elsewhere) is dire. But it is not clear that it would make much difference even if American diplomats and spokespeople were far more self-assured, non-apologetic, and articulate than in fact they are. The truth is that America's hard-driving economic success -- and its demotic, commercial, utterly non-traditional popular culture -- inspire a mix of envy and contempt among many Europeans (and among many people elsewhere in the world as well, of course). American public diplomacy surely ought to be improved: there's almost nowhere to go but up. But ambivalence, at best, is probably an inescapable price of America's success: at least so long as America is successful in, well, such a very American way.