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USA Oui! Bush Non! | The Nation

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USA Oui! Bush Non!

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Twenty-four hours or so after landing in Paris for a five-city tour in search of the new European anti-Americanism, I found myself in one of the coolest places on the planet: a big old ugly hockey arena on the outskirts of town, surrounded by 15,000 people waiting for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to come onstage. The concert turned out to be a pretty standard Springsteen concert. But it's always interesting to see him play abroad, and Paris enjoys a special place in Springsteen lore. It was here, back in 1980, that Bruce first talked politics with his fans. Largely self-educated, Springsteen had been given a copy of Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager's A Short History of the United States. He read it and told the crowd that America "held out a promise and it was a promise that gets broken every day in the most violent way. But it's a promise that never, ever dies, and it's always inside of you."

Eric Alterman would like to thank the Investigative Fund of
the Nation Institute and the German Marshall Fund (US) for their
financial support of his research in Europe.

CORRECTION: Alessandro Portelli is
the correct name of the professor of American literature at the
University of Rome. Jürgen Habermas is, of course, a philosopher of
the Frankfurt School (as Alterman originally wrote), who is also
affiliated with Frankfurt University.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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You can tell a lot about a continent by the way it reacts to Bruce Springsteen. Tonight, at the Bercy Stadium, the typically multigenerational, sold-out Springsteen audience could be from Anytown, USA. Everybody knows all the lyrics, even to the new songs. Toward the end of the evening, Bruce announces, in French, "I wrote this song about the Vietnam War. I want to do it for you tonight for peace," and 15,000 Parisians, standing in the historic home of cultural anti-Americanism, scream out at the top of their collective lungs, "I was born in the USA," fists in the air.

You can't be anti-American if you love Bruce Springsteen. You can criticize America. You can march against America's actions in the world. You can take issue with the policies of its unelected, unusually aggressive and unthinking Administration, and you can even get annoyed with its ubiquitous cultural and commercial presence in your life. But you can't be anti-American. George W. Bush is "like a cartoon stereotype" representing "the worst side of the US culture," Jordi Beleta, 45, told Phil Kuntz of the Wall Street Journal, outside Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi two nights after Paris. "Bruce is real. He's a street man." A Reuters reporter found a similar story in Berlin: "America can keep Bush but Springsteen can come back here as often as he wants," said Rumen Milkov, 36.

To be genuinely anti-American, as the Italian political scientist Robert Toscano points out, is to disapprove of the United States "for what it is, rather than what it does." Bush Administration officials and their supporters in the media would like to confuse this point in order to dismiss or delegitimize widespread concern and anger about the course of US foreign policy. To listen to their words, Europe has become a smoldering caldron of anti-Americanism, in which even our best qualities are held against us by a jealous, frustrated and xenophobic population led by cowardly, pacifistic politicians. The picture painted in the US media is one of almost relentless resentment.

I heard it first about France, where an anti-McDonald's movement had taken hold, and a xenophobic, neofascist Hitler apologist managed to come in second in a national presidential election. Walk into a French bookstore and you will find titles like Who Is Killing France?, American Totalitarianism, No Thanks Uncle Sam, A Strange Dictatorship. French newspapers are filled with blistering criticism of the US role in the world. Le Monde, for instance, pulled no punches when it recently termed Bush's Middle East policies "extraordinary, unjust and arrogant."

Well, France is France, but even in Britain, whose prime minister, Tony Blair, has proven Bush's most reliable and articulate ally across the pond, mainstream papers like the Mirror announce in large headlines--on July 4, no less--"The USA Is Now the World's Leading Rogue State." (The more liberal Guardian said the United States is an "unrepentant outlaw" nation.) Will Hutton, a former editor of the Observer, wrote a book portraying the United States as in "the extraordinary grip of Christian fundamentalism"; boasting a "democracy" that is "an offense to democratic ideals," where the "dominant conservatism is very ideological, almost Leninist," and is bolstered by "tenacious endemic racism," with an economy that "rests on an enormous confidence trick," and in which, incidentally, "citizens routinely shoot each other."

I heard it about Italy, where the left was historically dominated by an anti-American Communist Party, and hundreds of thousands gathered to demonstrate against US-led globalization in July 2001 and again against the planned war in Iraq in November.

And I heard it, perhaps most alarmingly, about Germany, which, since World War II, has always been a bastion of support for the United States. In spring 2002, when Bush visited Berlin, the mayor announced that he would have to leave town, and tens of thousands of Germans participated in more than twenty-five large anti-US demonstrations. The sentiment was hardly limited to the demonstrators, moreover. Not only did Chancellor Gerhard Schröder manage to win re-election by running less against his opponent than against Bush's proposed war in Iraq, refusing cooperation under any circumstances, including full UN approval--but his justice minister, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, even compared Bush to Hitler. (According to Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, Däubler-Gmelin was only saying "what many Germans believe.")

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