No need to apologize as an outsider commenting on America’s problems- that’s exactly what we need more of. As a half-outsider myself (I wasn’t born here, but have lived in the United States longer than any other country, so I guess I’m more American than anything else) I’m very aware of the fact that Americans are mostly clueless about the rest of the world, and rich enough to not have to care until disaster strikes. Still, it’s easy to forget that fact in the day-to-day, and I certainly had no idea about the Glass-Steagall story outside of this country. It’s all quite fascinating and somewhat similar to our issues with the environment- we are the biggest culprits of climate change, but we also have many great regulations in place that other counties (hello, China) can easily ignore to become industrial giants precisely for that reason. It’s a very weird, complicated ethical knot that we somehow have to untangle.
I’m not sure how I could ever gather enough global perspective to judge your assessment of the situation objectively, just like you’d probably have to live here for a good ten years before you could fully appreciate the wild west of a country America is. I don’t think you’re wrong, for the most part- but I remain skeptical of the idea that the role of U.S. President lies almost entirely on the global and not domestic stage. Certainly it plays a larger role than what I was considering when I wrote my piece- I owe you a thank you for pointing that out. You’re right in that the President’s power in Washington is fairly limited. That’s actually why I’m not so worried when people accuse Sanders of not having worked out every little detail of his grandiose plans- that’s not really his job. What I do think is a huge part of the President’s job is that of setting a tone for the country (and, in extension, the world) to follow. For all the complex mechanics that make up our modern day political and economic systems, for all the complex negotiating world leaders must know how to do, there is still the very fundamental issue of moral and ethical fortitude I believe our modern populace has basically forgotten. It sounds childishly naive, I know, to simplify world issues to such terms as “right” and “wrong,” yet it is precisely because we’ve stopped expecting our leaders to act correctly that we’re in such a disgusting mess right now.
Clearly, you have strong convictions too, describing major European banks as greedy know-nothings- so I know you get what I’m talking about. Short-sighted greed is still an objectively destructive and unsustainable way of living, no matter how untouchable you think you are. And, so, my question to you is simply: even with all the goodwill Obama generated, and even if Clinton can generate more, how much is such international respect worth? What does it buy us, compared to what good old-fashioned integrity and trustworthiness would buy us? I mean, I understand that after eight years of George W. Bush, the world was ecstatic to see an American President up there that could actually put two sentences together coherently. And Obama could not only do that, he actually speaks incredibly eloquently- a welcome change from the usual robotic buzzword-happy men we’ve elected. But even if you guys like us more now than you used to, so what? I don’t mean that in a confrontational way, I mean it quite sincerely: how much does that goodwill accomplish?
Because just from an environmental perspective, all that goodwill isn’t going to make Americans stop burning gasoline and coal at ridiculous rates; it’s not going to get China and India to slow down their mad rush to Americanize themselves, and it’s not even going to affect Europe, since you guys are already miles ahead of us in changing your habits. I mean, you Germans especially- the way you’ve embraced renewable energy in such a short time should make every American feel ashamed every morning they get up. And I’m sure you can probably point out a hundred flaws and issues to your energy program, but it’s still light years ahead of ours- especially since we don’t actually have a national energy program to speak of. And Barack, for all his wonderful speeches, didn’t put much effort in to bring us one.
So while everything you say is probably true in terms of the international stage, I’m not sure how that plays itself out in terms of the two things I am most concerned about: our imminently crashing environment, and our imminently crashing economy. And when I say I’m most concerned about it, it’s not because they happen to be personal topics of interest to me- it’s because all our other issues hinge upon those two. If our climate change continues at it’s current rate, we all know how unpredictably destructive that will be for all our economies and societies. Agriculture, domestic and international tension, world markets… not to mention social issues like bigotry, hunger… all of it will be thrown up into the air, landing in impossible-to-predict ways. And the only way to fix our environmental problems is through our economy, because no one is going to change their habits until it becomes expensive for them to do so. Sad, but true.
And so, just like you said, what we do here in America affects the world. I’m very, very aware of that. I know Sanders isn’t going to accomplish a lot in terms of regulations passed and easy-to-see changes. What I do believe is that he has the ability to change our cultural tone, the way only great leaders do. Americans weren’t always materialistic and wasteful consumers. This country’s values weren’t always about shopping and spending. Americans used to be thrifty, resourceful, skilled laborers, and less obsessed with how much money they were making, believe it or not. I’ve seen it change drastically just in my lifetime, and while there’s a lot of reasons for it, the Reagan Administration style of leadership had a lot to do with it. I’m not saying it’s all his fault- but he definitely tapped into post-Vietnam & Watergate hunger for self-esteem and fed it by offering us consumer goods that could all be charged on our credit cards. As much as one person can have an impact on people, Reagan had an impact, and it wasn’t good.
I have long sensed a strong desire by younger generations to get back to the values of their grandparents- the desire to be part of a community, to think more about “us” and less about “me”, a newfound interest in learning how to make rather than simply buy things- but I didn’t know how prevalent that desire was until Bernie Sanders tapped into a gigantic wave of progressiveness that even 4 years ago did not exist. To me, it seems obvious how everything you’re talking about would improve tenfold by having a president that people actually trusted, who’s honesty and values set an example for how we wanted to treat each other, and by extension, everyone else in the world. Conversely, I’m not sure why it’s obvious to you that Hillary Clinton is such a shoe-in for the job. A good percentage of us don’t trust her at all. We see no reason to believe she’ll even try to do anything substantial in the subjects I’ve been mentioning. Okay, so she’s probably a lot more impressive to other world leaders than Sanders might be- she knows the protocols better, can probably negotiate with them better, too. I don’t doubt that, but does it really trump all the other stuff? How much does garnering European goodwill beat out being an example of integrity to one’s country?
I suspect your assessment hinges on the fact that you don’t think Hillary is as untrustworthy as we do, or that the problems we’re facing (economy, environment, etc.) aren’t as dire as I’m thinking they are. If that’s the case, I can see why you might go with a Hillary over a Bernie. Whether your outsider’s perspective is more or less accurate than mine, I honestly don’t know. She could become president and, what do you know, four years from now I’m wondering why I was so worked up about her. But then I look back at the last 36 years, at how much we’ve lost as Americans (despite gaining in some ways) and at how little we’ve bothered to improve (despite knowing full well that we needed to) and I look at Hillary, and I just can’t see a single reason to believe things will be any different with her in charge.
p.s. I love Mozart too, but… wasn’t he Austrian? The fact that you guys brought us Kraftwerk, Can, Schubert, Fritz Lang, Hermann Hesse, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders makes Germany OK in my book. Oh, and Beethoven, of course!