US domestic news has gotten me down recently, and it seems as if I’m not the only one. A Pew Center report issued last week reports for that only 49% of Americans surveyed agreed that “our people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others.” This is down from 60% in 2002. It’s not hard to speculate on reasons for the decline. Since 2002 we have been plagued with two expensive and not overly successful wars, our economy is in big trouble, unemployment is high and political leaders on both sides have proven themselves completely inept. Gosh, I got depressed just writing that sentence!
Public diplomacy scholar that I am, it makes me wonder what effect this pessimistic attitude will have on public diplomacy. Americans have a reputation of having a superiority complex, but maybe this is more perception than fact. For instance, according to this NYT opinion piece, young adults in Germany, Spain and Britain have higher opinions of their country than do young Americans (at least we still have better self-esteem than the French!). On one hand, I am distressed. How are we supposed to sell ourselves to the world if we don’t even believe in ourselves? On the other, I wonder if acknowledging our fallibility may improve our image in the world. We spoke in class Thursday about how a State Department official was applauded a few years ago for making self-deprecating comments about the US on foreign television. Is this a good tactic for outreach, making us seem more “human,” or is it showing a lack of confidence in our own policy? I’m really not sure what the answer is. Any thoughts?