The people of the world have been pretty patient with my country, have generally and generously continued to view Americans with warm regard and friendship even when our government has behaved badly, and even when so many of our fellow citizens travel abroad and behave boorishly and arrogantly. Our neighbors to the south, those Mexicans who have routinely been treated with such disrespect, disdain, condescension and cruelty, generally continue to be gracious toward us, as individuals and as a nation.
They may disparage us behind our backs, of course, tell tales about their encounters with imperious tourists as they eat dinner with their families, of express contempt for our leaders as they sip cervezas in the cantina, but Mexicans tend to treat us with scrupulous politeness, in their own country, or in ours.
The same is true nearly everywhere else Americans are likely to travel. Even the French, who are so often stereotyped as rude and haughty, have--in my experience--always been kind, helpful to a bewildered visitor who is fumbling with their language, lost or confused. Because my first born daughter has lived in France for three decades now, I go there often, and I have never had an unpleasant encounter with a French person, not on the Metro, in a cab, or in a restaurant, not in Paris, not in any village I've visited, and not even during periods when American foreign policy was pissing people off, or when American numb skulls were going public with expressions of derision toward the French people, calling them "cheese eating surrender monkeys," or making a splash about changing the name of French fries to Freedom Fries on the menu in the congressional dining room.
Our country continues to garner affection and genuine respect from people around the globe who still see our system and the ideals that undergird it as a beacon of hope for them, and for all humanity. But can that affection and respect be inexhaustible?
Far more consistently than too many Americans seem capable of doing, people elsewhere in the world largely manage to separate us as individual human being, exempting us from blame for the displays of arrogance and the "American exceptionalism" chest thumping so many of our high visibility politicians engage in so frequently.
Even beyond that, our country continues to garner affection and genuine respect from people around the globe who still see our system and the ideals that undergird it as a beacon of hope for them, and for all humanity.
But can that affection and respect be inexhaustible? When JFK was inaugurated, American prestige rose throughout the world. From that speech Kennedy gave in Berlin to his visit to his ancestral home in Ireland, he was seen as the embodiment of American idealism and vigor, a living vision of hope for the future, a bright symbol not only of and for the U.S., but of and for the planet.
The heroism of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen during World War II left an enduring legacy of love and gratitude in the hearts of people who had been freed from or spared oppression at the hands of the Nazis, the fascists, or the forces of the ruthlessly cruel Japanese occupying forces in places like Nanking and the Philippines.
But it seems impossible to imagine America's repository of accrued goodwill is inexhaustible, that our account cannot be overdrawn, that the patience of people, here and abroad, will not be drained away by an excess of arrogance, exceptionalism, nationalism, imperialism, and bully boy belligerence as it expresses itself in the face of the man the disunited States of America inaugurates as its leader, as its symbol to the world on this perilous moment in our national and global history.