Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reflexive anti-Americanism

Near the end of a recent column on Sir John A. Macdonald that calls on Canadians to put things in context and see things from more than one side (“If Sir John Must Stay,” August 10), Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick offers us this: “Americans don’t do context, they just bomb. They think all of their pointless wars of recent history stand alone, not realizing they’re just Vietnam over and over again.” She writes as if “Americans” were one amorphous mass. Editors would surely have cut any such crude generalization about “Russians” or “Chinese”; why is crude anti-Americanism given a free pass?

Sloppy thinking, is the short answer. So much attention is paid to Donald Trump and the Trump administration that many Canadians--like so many others around the world who are rightly horrified by the opinions and actions of the current occupant of the White House--allow themselves to start responding in a reflexively negative way to everything American and to the very idea of America. At some level people know that Trump is not America--that 3 million more Americans voted for Clinton than for Trump in 2016, and that since then polls have consistently shown majority opposition to Trump among Americans (in contrast, a significant majority of the Russian population is believed to support Vladimir Putin.) Yet many allow themselves to forget those facts, and to fall into sloppy generalizations.

If it happens with respected journalists such as Mallick and the Toronto Star editorial staff, how much more frequently does it happen with ordinary citizens who do not make their living by following public affairs? Very, very frequently, it would seem; a few months ago the Environics Institute found that Canadians viewed the United States more negatively than any other country in the world--including even North Korea (Canada's World Survey 2018--'s-world-2017-survey; for an interesting commentary see Doug Saunders' April 14, 2018 Globe and Mail column, "Canadians are seeing the whole world through an anti-American lens").

Those of us who live outside America and who oppose Trump and all he stands for should stand firm in our opposition. But we should stop conflating the worst of America with all of America.

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