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Dear America, Get over yourself. Love, Europe.

I decided to practice what I’ve been preaching. I know: What a novel idea.

When I talk to journalists, as I have been doing for the past week and a half here in Vienna (and in workshops elsewhere), I stress the importance of being smarter than the material you want to write about, of not writing until you have done the careful work of trying to understand what lies beneath the surface. I stress the importance of not imposing yourself on a story, not striding in brimming with self-confidence you have no right to feel, firing away questions you think are important, setting the parameters instead of discovering them, establishing the tone instead of listening for it.

I had set myself the task of trying to see how Trump’s America was “playing” in Europe. Well, in Austria, in Vienna. This I would write as a blog post, a dispatch from overseas. And so, not practicing what I preach, I proceeded to ask everyone I met, “What do you think of America under Trump?” And I got opinions. I got opinions that had a lot to do with whom I asked (schreibers, kunstlers, lehrers) and how I asked it – I do not have a poker face, and anyway, my phrasing “Trump’s America” is kind of a giveaway. That and the Bernie sticker I still have on my macbook air.

Then I caught myself (well, after three days I caught myself), and I shut up, observed and listened. Just what I tell others to do.

Here’s my report:

My fellow Americans, we should get over ourselves. No we shouldn’t stop making noise and taking to the streets and supporting the organizations and policies we believe in. What we should stop is thinking we are it. Because we aren’t anymore. The writers and waiters, the teachers and grocery store shoppers, the social democrats and unionists and other Lefties are looking elsewhere for inspiration. We are not the guiding light. We are not the world’s leader (in anything that is important). We have nothing to teach others about how to act ethically in the world, about how to treat our citizens with dignity, about how to create a just and joyful society.

Spain was once it. Britannia once ruled the waves. The Ottomans. The Romans. I understand that the Habsburg Empire used to be quite the deal.

But greatness ends. The man who ran on “Make American Great Again,” has, if the conversations I’ve been listening to are any indication, succeeded in lowering the world’s opinion of us to the extent that they care much less than we think about “Trump’s America.” They worry that we will do harm to the global environment. Yes. But they look to alternative energy innovations in China. They look to health care successes in Scandinavia. They look to the Netherlands for enlightened LGBTQ attitudes and laws. They look to Canada for compassionate immigration and refugee policies. They look past America.

What do they think of America under Trump? They think America is increasingly irrelevant. They think we – like the rest of the world – should look elsewhere for inspiration and innovation, for compassionate and egalitarian ways of behaving. They think we have a lot to learn.


1 Doran { 05.04.17 at 4:14 am }

I’ll bet that is their attitude. America I think is the stupidest place in the world on the aggregate at
at least compared to Europe

2 Lauren { 05.04.17 at 7:50 am }

Well, we certainly think we are smarter than we are. Not sure we are the “stupidest.” There are some tough contenders for that category.

3 Richard Greene { 05.04.17 at 9:55 pm }


Welcome back. And while I am at it the Europeans are welcome to the birthplace of fascism and nazism. We are in a mess right now in a pincer of racism and greed and are nothing to envy but here is where the future will be decided for better or worst.

4 Lauren { 05.05.17 at 2:26 pm }

I am not sure that we (the US) will decide the future. What I am seeing is that Europe is looking elsewhere to see what is possible, what experiments and ideas are working (or not). I am so very conscious of Austria as Hitler’s birthplace, and the terrible past of this part of the world. It is interesting, though, how this is not swept under the rug (like our treatment of African slaves, native Americans, Japanese-Americans). Everywhere you go there are monuments and museums, markers that signify, the sense that “we will never forget.” Which is not to say that there aren’t right-wing fanatics here — as there are in our country — but rather that this country (and Germany, I think) as countries “own” their terrible pasts.

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