Thomas Friedman, much abused on this weblog, has a good column in this morning’s Times, asking what we’re becoming and what we’ve become.
I worry that 20 years from now some eighth grader will be doing her National History Day project on how America’s reaction to 9/11 unintentionally led to an erosion of core elements of American identity. What sparks such dark thoughts on a trip from London to New Delhi?It’s easy to nitpick this sort of thing; a single fortress-like embassy, or a single increase in border-official scrutiny, doesn’t add up to a sea change in who we are. But even Friedman, normally an enthusiast for America, markets, capitalism, and the whole History Will Work Out For The Best worldview, can sense how all the little changes are adding up. As a constant world traveller, he can see how much the rest of the world’s attitude toward America has darkened.
In part it is the awful barriers that now surround the U.S. Embassy in London on Grosvenor Square. “They have these cages all around the embassy now, and these huge concrete blocks, and the whole message is: ‘Go away!’” said Kate Jones, a British literary agent who often walks by there. “That is how people think of America now, and it’s a really sad thing because that is not your country.” […]
In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They “make you feel so unwanted now,” said Mr. Das. America was a country “that was always reinventing itself,” he added, because it was a country that always welcomed “all kinds of oddballs” and had “this wonderful spirit of openness.” American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. “If you go dark, the world goes dark.”
What most Americans don’t yet get is that this isn’t the kind of overseas anti-Americanism they’ve seen on TV all their lives, angry slogans shouted by students, or radicals, or ethnic groups that happen to have had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of some American priority or other. Rather, the people Friedman’s citing are the educated, professional, middle-class types who, for generations now, have been benignly disposed to us; whose basic pro-Americanism has survived Vietnam, Nixon, our Latin American shenanigans, and worse. We’re losing those people. This is, quite literally, epochal. It’s how eras end.