FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Quintessential American

The difference between having lived in a foreign country (particularly while you’re young, relatively poor, keenly observant, and ever so slightly insecure) and NOT having lived in a foreign country is profound. If you were paying attention, the experience was life-altering. It made you realize there were no absolutes, that almost everything you previously took as “normal” or “universal” was merely one version of reality. The Western version.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the difference between having lived abroad and having NOT lived abroad is not unlike the difference between having entered puberty and NOT having entered it. Yes, it’s a dramatic and embarrassing comparison, but it’s true. Once you’ve crossed that line, nothing is ever the same.

Back when I spent two pre-Internet years working in Northern India (Punjab state), the Indians were still exceedingly curious about America. Even those nominally “anti-American” Indians (political science professors, members of the CPI—the Communist Party of India, students, etc.) couldn’t help themselves. They were clearly fascinated with the United States.

And because I was likely to be the only American these people (mainly English-speaking city folk and “townies”) were ever going to meet, and was aware that their view of the U.S. was, therefore, going to be based almost exclusively on how I comported myself, I did my best to modulate my responses. Thus, I went out of my way to consciously present myself as the “average” American.

I wasn’t always successful. There were lapses. For instance, when Indians asked me what the “best” American city was (and, oddly, way more Indians than you’d expect asked me that question), I usually answered by saying that the notion of a “best city” was simply too broad and subjective a category. But I didn’t always say that. Sometimes I told them it was New York City.

Not that I had any personal or institutional attachment to NYC. While I had visited the city, and was overwhelmed by it, I had never lived there. It just seemed like New York—the center of finance, publishing, art, fashion, theater, organized crime—was the appropriate answer. Similarly, when asked what the “worst” American city was (a question also asked) I said it was Las Vegas, Nevada. Again, it seemed appropriate.

When the conversation turned to American practices and “values,” I was usually a reliable and informative respondent—indeed, a veritable fountain of Americana. But not always. I could also be entertainingly glib and downright Gore Vidalesque when I was in the company of Indians I knew to be critical of the United States, especially when we were drinking alcohol.

On these occasions, and with this audience, I insisted that once you cut through all the rhetoric, anecdotal history, symbolism, and flag-waving patriotism, we Americans believed strongly in two things. Two things, and two things only: liberty (i.e., personal freedom) and consumerism. The Indians listened intently.

Now fast-forward to September 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center was attacked. As many will recall, President George W. Bush went on national television that very evening, understandably and visibly shaken, and spoke to the American public.

His message was both sobering and stupid. In this time of national confusion and nervousness, President Bush didn’t ask us to pray, or mediate on what had just occurred, or spend time with our loved ones. Presumably, his economic and foreign affairs advisors had already taken him aside made clear what our priorities should be.

Rather, Bush urged us to go shopping. As nutty as that seems, it’s true. Aware that our economy depends on consumers buying stuff we don’t need, he urged us to grab our wallets, jump into our SUVs, and head for the malls. If we failed to do that, it would mean the terrorists had won. To me, it felt like I had just re-entered puberty.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 01, 2020
Marshall Sahlins
Trumpty’s Country
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
No Pandemic-Related Pause? VA Privatization Leaves Veterans Waist Deep in Another Big Muddy 
Kenneth Surin
The UK and Covid-19 Crisis
Jack Wareham - Dylan Burgoon
“Whose University? Our University!” The Struggle for a COLA at UC Berkeley
Erik Molvar
Oil industry Exploits Pandemic as Excuse to Dodge Federal Regulations, Fees
Robert Jensen
Apocalypse, Now and Forever
Jake Johnston – Kira Paulemon
COVID-19 in Haiti: the Current Response and Challenges
Jen Moore
Guatemalan Water Protectors Persist, Despite Mining Company Threats
Danny Shaw
“The Coronavirus is Man-Made:” the Conspiracy Theory Trap 
Nafeez Ahmed
Former WHO Director: 8-Week Suppression Strategy Could Stop US COVID Crisis in Its Tracks
Frances Madeson
Death Camps in the Making: New York’s Prisons During a Time of Pandemic
Clark T. Scott
The White House and the CDC are United in Stupidity
George Ochenski
What Does COVID-19 Have to Do With Industrial Pollution?
Norman Solomon
Trump’s Mass Negligent Homicide Doesn’t Let Democratic Leaders Off the Hook
Scott Owen
Another New Peace
Elizabeth Schmidt
Lessons From Africa: Military Intervention Fails to Counter Terrorism
Greta Anderson
What’s the Hang Up on Releasing Adult Lobos?
Ted Rall
The Speech Trump Must But Cannot Give
March 31, 2020
Jonathan Cook
Netanyahu Uses Coronavirus to Lure Rival Gantz into ‘Emergency’ Government
Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun – Weiyan Zhu
Growing Xenophobia Against China in the Midst of CoronaShock
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Chernobyl Moment: the US May Lose Its Status as World Superpower and Not Recover
Roger Harris
Beyond Chutzpah: US Charges Venezuela With Nacro-Terrorism
M. K. Bhadrakumar
Has America Reached Its Endgame in Afghanistan?
Thomas Klikauer
COVID-19 in Germany: Explaining a Low Death Rate
Dave Lindorff
We’ve Met the Enemy and It’s a Tiny Virus
Binoy Kampmark
Barbaric Decisions: Coronavirus, Refusing Bail and Julian Assange
Nicolas J S Davies
Why is the U.S. so Exceptionally Vulnerable to Covid-19?
James Bovard
The Deep State’s Demolition of Democracy
Michael Doliner
Face Off: the Problem With Social Distancing
John Feffer
The Politics of COVID-19
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Cure and Our Disease
Howard Lisnoff
The Fault Lines of a Failed Society Begin to Open Up Into Chasms
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba: An Example of Solidarity In a Time of Crisis
Ralph Nader
Out of the Coronavirus Crisis Can Come Efficient Historic Changes for Justice
Thomas Stephens
Apocalyptic and Revolutionary Education in Times of Pandemic
Edward Martin
Erik Olin Wright and the Anti-Capitalist Economy
March 30, 2020
Marshall Auerback
Washington Uses the Pandemic to Create a $2 Trillion Slush Fund for Its Cronies
Ron Jacobs
Going After Maduro
Justin Podur
When Economists Try to Solve Health Crises, the Results Can Often be Disastrous
Thomas Knapp
Decarceration: COVID-19 is Opportunity Knocking
Arshad Khan - Meena Miriam Yust
Dying Planet and a Virus Unleashed
William Astore
How My Dad Predicted the Decline of America
Seth Sandronsky
Reclaiming Vacant Homes in the COVID-19 Pandemic
John G. Russell
Racial Profiling Disorder: the All-American Pandemic
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
As the World Tackles the COVID-19 Pandemic, the U.S. Raises the Pressure on Venezuela
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail