Ryan: America’s not-so-stellar reputation in Europe


Dan Ryan, Columnist

I only needed one hour in Europe to learn a valuable lesson about the United States.

I landed in Spain at 8 p.m. to learn that dinner is served at 9, so I quickly had the opportunity to get to know my host family. Naturally, they also wanted to get to know me as well, and from the get-go, it was apparent that the touchy subject of politics was not off the table.

They asked me what I thought about the Tea Party. They described the news stories they heard from the United States, and these stories mainly concerned the Tea Party, our radical views of gun rights and people demanding that everything they buy be made in America.

After a few minutes of being treated to a Spanish impersonation of what a typical Tea-Partier would sound like, I realized, with some horror, that it was also a caricature of what the average European thinks the average American is like.

This is a problem. America has a serious image problem abroad. And it’s important we ask ourselves why that is.

To start, Congress has become a joke in the eyes of United States citizens and foreign nationals alike. Our political leaders’ once comical ineffectiveness has ceased to be funny, and a frustrated American public has voiced its opinion through an impressively low approval rating.

When they chose to set the fiscal cliff deadline, it was with the idea that no reasonable human being, much less government body, would ever allow the date to pass without taking action. Yet we stood teetering on the cliff for weeks. Some members of Congress also voted against giving relief aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy. We should be outraged and embarrassed.

But why would Europeans care about the pathetic performance of a government that isn’t their own? It turns out that many Europeans believe the origin of the current worldwide economic crisis (emphasis on worldwide) was the United States, an argument with a good deal of validity.

The US economy is rebounding slowly, but at least it’s recovering. Spain’s economy is not. Unemployment sits at a staggering 26 percent. Most young people graduating from high school and college are not only unable to find work, but also have little hope for the future. Try to imagine graduating from Northwestern knowing full well you won’t be getting a job for at least the next three years.

Many Europeans put most of the blame for their economic woes on the United States. When they see the bumbling, ineffective group we’ve elected to office, they must be furious. Other countries have a stake in what happens in the United States; we’re unique in that way.

We have garnered quite a bit of resentment from many nations as they watch a country that needs to act like a leader carry itself like a child. The rest of the world is watching us, and, with the shocking and controversial news reports coming out of the United States, the odds are stacked against us.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, we were treated to the antics of the NRA. Membership swelled and the organization gained hundreds of new followers on Twitter. The Right clung to their guns and made a lot of noise.

And they were heard overseas, especially in Europe, where many countries have strict gun control laws. Not surprisingly, violent crime is also significantly lower there. Many Europeans saw our reaction to a horrific tragedy as championing more violence.

These types of things cannot be tolerated here. We have cultivated an image of a country governed by the fringe, in which reasonable discourse does not exist. I strongly believe this is false, but the rest of the world isn’t so sure. Watching the news, it’s not hard to see why.

The partisan divide has become a severe problem, and it’s preventing us from being a proper leader in the world. Our attitudes toward opposing views are extreme and childish. Our Congressmen seem more concerned about reelection and winning favor in their respective parties than tackling tough issues.

And the United States is supposed to be a leader in the world. What we, voters and elected officials, do matters. Not just for the US, but for the rest of the globe. I fear we’ve lost sight of this fact recently, and partisanship is the likely culprit.

We’re more worried about the party we support gaining power, blindly voting for candidates we haven’t researched because of the letter next to their name. We allow outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC to operate as they do. We’ve allowed the fringes of the political spectrum define our image to the world.

This has to stop. We impact the lives of too many to allow our government to behave like children. The rest of the world is amazed and infuriated by it. Perhaps it’s time we join them.

Dan Ryan is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].