alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

'A uniquely humiliating moment': London journalist explains why allies went from ‘admiring’ the US to ‘feeling pity’

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and G7 Summit host French President Emmanuel Macron during a G7 Working Session on Global Economy, Foreign Policy and Security Affairs at the Centre de Congrés Bellevue Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, in Biarritz, France. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Contrary to the claims of the United States’ right-wing media, most residents of Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada or New Zealand are not longing to move to the U.S. — they have heard all the horror stories about medical bankruptcies, mass incarceration and a lack of upward mobility. The rest of the developed world has continued to hope that the U.S. will overcome its problems, but in 2020 — with the U.S. being rocked by the coronavirus pandemic and huge protests in response to the killing of George Floyd on May 25 — long-time allies are worried. And London-based journalist Tom McTague discusses their worries in an article published by The Atlantic on June 24.


In the past, McTague explains, Europeans felt everything from admiration to envy to resentment where the U.S. was concerned. But in 2020, many of them are feeling “pity.”

“It is hard to escape the feeling that this is a uniquely humiliating moment for America,” McTague writes. “As citizens of the world the United States created, we are accustomed to listening to those who loathe America, admire America and fear America — sometimes all at the same time. But feeling pity for America? That one is new, even if the schadenfreude is painfully myopic. If it’s the aesthetic that matters, the U.S. today simply doesn’t look like the country that the rest of us should aspire to, envy or replicate.”

Europeans, McTague notes, have been horrified by Floyd’s killing and Trump’s response to it. And in order to gauge “how this moment in U.S. history is being seen in the rest of the world,” the journalist says, he “spoke to more than a dozen senior diplomats, government officials, politicians and academics from five major European countries — including advisers to two of its most powerful leaders — as well as to the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.”

“From these conversations, most of which took place on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, a picture emerged in which America’s closest allies are looking on with a kind of stunned incomprehension, unsure of what will happen, what it means, and what they should do — largely bound together with angst and a shared sense, as one influential adviser told me, that America and the West are approaching something of a fin de siècle,” McTague writes.

In Europe, according to McTague, Trump represents “a caricature of” the U.S. that is “brash, grasping, rich and in charge.”

“In the president and first lady  —  the burning cities and race divides, the police brutality and poverty  —  an image of America is beamed out, confirming the prejudices that much of the world already have while also serving as a useful device to obscure its own injustices, hypocrisies, racism, and ugliness,” according to McTague.

Bruno Maceas, Portugal’s former minister to the EU, told McTague, “The collapse of the American Empire is a given. We are just trying to figure out what will replace it.” But Blair is much more optimistic about the United States’ future.

“I think it’s fair to say a lot of political leaders in Europe are dismayed by what they see as the isolationism growing in America and the seeming indifference to alliances,” Blair told McTague. “But I think there will come a time when America decides in its own interest to reengage. So, I’m optimistic that America will, in the end, understand that this is not about relegating your self-interest behind the common interest. It’s an understanding that by acting collectively in alliance with others, you promote your own interests.”

McTague stresses that the events of 2020 have made Trump’s reputation even worse in Europe.

“The street protests, violence and racism of the past few weeks have erupted at the very moment the country’s institutional failings have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced by its apparently unbridgeable partisan divide — which is now even infecting parts of the American machine that have so far been untouched: its federal agencies, diplomatic service, and the long-standing norms underpinning the relationship between civilians and the military,” McTague explains. “All of this is happening in the final year of the first term of the most chaotic, loathed and disrespected president in modern American history.”

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close