Riding Shotgun: Everyone into the Handbasket, Part II

Sure, the rest of the world may hate us, but so what?

I shouldn’t do two-parters. If I think a piece is going to be too long for a single column, I should cram it together like clowns in a Mini and let the editorial monk cut it down to size.

Just too much has happened: Janet Jackson’s right breast; Kerry all but winning the nomination; Nader jumping into the campaign; gay marriage in San Francisco and a possible constitutional amendment. This is the social-sexual equivalent of desegregating schools, and our President wants an amendment banning it. I can’t even begin to express how wrong that is. Well, I can, but I don’t think I can do it justice — too much profanity, not enough righteous indignation. It doesn’t hit close enough to home for me.

But Crunchable has an open submission policy, and I urge anyone who feels they can do it justice — possibly a homosexual someone for whom this would remove the possibility of marriage under the law, or someone who has just taken advantage of the mayor of San Francisco’s humongous political cojones — to write something and send it in.

We have a bigot for a Commander in Chief, whoopadeeedooooo! Now, discuss.

Like I said a few weeks ago, this upcoming campaign isn’t going to be about idealism or hugs, seatbelts (Hello again, Mr. Nader) and bunnies. This one is pretty much about one group of Americans wanting Bush to stay, and the other wanting him replaced with anything smarter than a cream danish.

And there aren’t nearly as many undecideds as in 2000. People feel very, very, very, very, very strongly about this one way or the other. And when I say people, I mean everyone, not just folks living in the Beltway or the Bible Belt.

Back in November, I decided that I really wanted to know how the rest of the world felt about America and Bush and Iraq and all the fun things that Bush is having Americans do in Iraq. And because I don’t personally know the rest of the world, I went to the next best thing: A chatroom. Actually, I started one on h2g2.com. It’s a funky little site sponsored by the BBC. The h2g2 stands for “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” — the fictional encyclopedia that Douglas Adams made famous in his serious of books of the same name.

I opened up a thread titled “What Do You Think About The US?” and asked people to submit their opinions, assuming that people had opinions, and hoping to get a little more in-depth than the generic “We have no problem with you, but your government sucks eggs” mantra.

The general consensus seems to be that Americans as a people are fat, stupid and lazy, but only our government figures are especially evil. I’m still trying to come up with a rebuttal.

The attributions are the respondents’ chosen screen names from h2g2.

Cyzaki, a student in the UK, after politely clarifying that “America” doesn’t mean Americans as a people, said, “I’ve never really liked America, as it seems to decide for itself what is ‘right’ and then imposes that on everyone else. America is the dictator of the world, or getting that way, so although I feel massive sympathy for everyone even remotely affected by the September 11th attacks, you can almost understand why terrorists feel so strongly about America.”

Della, who hails from New Zealand, added, “After September 11th, I remember how shocked I felt. We watched TV all day. Peter Jennings looking very frayed by the end of the day. But my sympathy has largely evaporated, sorry. The bombing of Afghanistan on 8th October 2001 dealt with that. I don’t think there was ever justification for bombing Afghanistan, and Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th!”

Some were a little harsher.

Gnomon, a Dubliner, stated, “Europeans think of Americans as clueless gun-toters. With the exception of Woody Allen and a few other gifted individuals, you don’t understand real cynicism or subtle humour. Your ignorance of the world around you or even of the poorer parts of your own country makes you the laughingstock of the world. At least it would be funny if it wasn’t for your damnable desire to ‘improve’ the world around you, no matter what the world itself thinks.”

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Woody Allen is one of the few Americans who can really relate to Europeans? We are so fucked.

Some went the rational route: “When enough people catch on to what other nations really think, and then understand what it is they object to, the people of the USA might want to use the rights they have been given to make serious changes to the way their government does business abroad… and the way their businesses do business too.” This from Gradient, an expat Brit living in the Southwestern United States.

And some knew US history better than US’ers. Well, better than I do, at least. “I’ve always thought the U.S. has suffered from an inability to view itself how others view it, although lots of other countries, if not most, doubtlessly have the same flaw,” said Blackberry Cat, a Scotch-English hybrid. “Take their [Americans'] anti-colonialist stance towards the old European empires of Britain and France. Was it compatible with their own history (treatment of Native Americans, war against Mexico, Pershing’s Mexican expedition, Puerto Rico, Phillipines, etc.? What must Clemenceau and Lloyd George have thought when Woodrow Wilson was preaching to them?”

I admit I had to look up Clemenceau.

And if you think Europeans (and the occasional New Zealander) are the only ones with harsh words, check out what one American respondent had to say: “Since I’m an American, perhaps I shouldn’t answer this, but I am starting to think that many of the members of the US government, both Republicans and Democrats, are fanatics and lunatics supported by a constituency of morons.”

I also found out that there are some fun little conspiracy theories making their way into the European mainstream that contend Bush knew about the terrorist attacks before they happened, and some that say the US orchestrated the attacks.

Polls late last year show that between 20 and 25 percent of Germans — that’s one-in-five to one-in-four — think the US was behind the terrorist attacks.

Conspiracy books are hitting the German bestseller list, the most prominent being Andreas von Bulow’s The CIA and September 11th.

9/11, Bulow argues, was obviously a ploy to get the US into Iraq and to ultimately take over the world.

Bestseller list.

25 percent.

Germany. Game over, man. Game over. When Germany is accusing us of being power-hungry and fascist, it’s time to pack up our toys and go home.

Have a nice sandwich, maybe. Take a warm bath. Stop blowing up things.

Wait for everything to quiet down before inviting the rest of the world over for tea and cookies and apologize for, well, being such amazing assholes.

That’d be nice.

In the meantime, vote. And remember, Americans: When traveling abroad, you’re from Toronto.

This column is dedicated to Dr. Howard Dean, Presidential hopeful. June 23, 2003Feb. 18, 2004. There’s always a Cabinet slot, Howie.

Article © 2004 by Steve Spotswood