Recently there have been a number of articles and opinion pieces in European newspapers and magazines lamenting the political and economic chaos in the U.S. Perhaps those in the White House, Congress, the Tea Party, Fox News, and the Sunday talk shows think that no one across the Atlantic would notice how deranged and dangerous our country now seems. But people abroad have begun to notice and are shaking their heads in dismay.
Jacob Augstein's commentary in Spiegel Online, "Once Upon a Time in the West," is typical of a strand of opinion heard in Germany and elsewhere.
"The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite. An unruly and aggressive militarism set in motion two costly wars in the past 10 years. Society is not only divided socially and politically -- in its ideological blindness the nation is moving even farther away from the core of democracy. It is losing its ability to compromise" ....
"The country's social disintegration is breathtaking.....The richest 1 percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country's total income for themselves -- 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total wealth, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. [Joseph] Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown." ....
"The name "United States" seems increasingly less appropriate. Something has become routine in American political culture that has been absent in Germany since Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik policies of rapprochement with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc (in the 1960s and '70s): hate. At the same time, reason has been replaced by delusion. The notion of tax cuts has taken on a cult-like status, and the limited role of the state a leading ideology. In this new American civil war, respect for the country's highest office was sacrificed long ago. The fact that Barack Obama is the country's first African-American president may have played a role there, too" ....
Augstein concludes that the U.S.A. no longer upholds the commitment to reason, equality and democracy that has long defined "the West." "The further the United States distances itself from us, the more we will (have to) think for ourselves, as Europeans. The West? That's us."
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Update: During my recent travels in China, a similar question came up in conversation. "Is America really in as much trouble as it seems to be?" Hence, it's no surprise to read the Chinese government's response to Standard & Poors downgrading America's credit rating (story from Reuters with quotes from the official Xinhua news agency):
China tells U.S. "good old days" of borrowing are over
In the Xinhua commentary, China scorned the United States for its "debt addiction" and "short sighted" political wrangling."
China, the largest creditor of the world's sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets," it said.
It urged the United States to cut military and social welfare expenditure. Further credit downgrades would very likely undermine the world economic recovery and trigger new rounds of financial turmoil, it said.
"International supervision over the issue of U.S. dollars should be introduced and a new, stable and secured global reserve currency may also be an option to avert a catastrophe caused by any single country," Xinhua said.