In the 20 years that have passed since the Twin Towers fell, I have written a great deal about America. I have done it from here and from there, on blogs that no one read and in highly valued spaces such as the one they leave me in elDiario.es. Only in the more than 200 articles that I have published here, I have tried to explain some of the darkest and bitter sides of a country that fascinates me: I have talked a lot about imperialism, inequality, racism, its unhealthy relationship with weapons or their irrational healthcare system.
And along the way, almost always, I have left behind the brightest and most inspiring aspects of a huge, diverse and exciting country. It’s time to settle the score, even for a day.
America is a country of activists
Much of the criticism that the US receives, with good reason, has to do with this absurd refusal to create a welfare system commensurate with its wealth. However, every time we denounce it, we should also add that Americans try to fill in those holes with a civic conscience from which we could learn a lot: the cinematic cliché of bringing a cake to the neighbors when they move or raising a collection for the family. of a deceased is a reflection of the lack of social protection, but also an expression of a strong sense of community.
Americans have an enviable culture of citizen participation even if it goes to less: one in four dedicates part of his time to collaborate for free with a cause, three times that in Spain. 73% has donated money to charities, twice that the Spanish. It may surprise us that wealthy Americans pay and name a section of highway or a museum after them and it can certainly be a symptom of the precariousness of the government, but at least there is a social conscience even in the most fortunate to contribute. somehow to the common. And if, here also deducts.
Furthermore, this culture of activism has more direct political channels than in other countries. Its federal system is dysfunctional and unrepresentative, but it has a great advantage for political activism: a separation of powers and far superior government oversight. In Spain, every time a deputy votes against what his party says, they sanction him and it is news. In the US it happens every day. Congressmen and senators receive business and partisan pressure, but are undoubtedly much more subject to their voters than Spanish public representatives chosen from closed lists, whose career depends mainly on their party leaders. There are also many more public offices elected at the polls and the possibilities for voters to organize themselves and kick a politician out early.
The traditional American allergy to government has one last added bonus: a generally healthy attitude of mistrust of power. To resort to another cinematographic appointment, every time an American is outraged on the big screen and says “I am a citizen who pays his taxes and I have my rights”, behind there is an act of individualism, but also a common culture of claiming them in front of The authority. There is a very lively tradition of civil disobedience, associationism and political action. Strikes, boycotts and non-violent protests have transformed many inequalities in the past and are still used today against many others that remain in force.
The fallacy of the “country of ignorant”
Of all the unfair and malicious stereotypes about Americans, the most unfounded is that they are garrulous. We love those videos in which an American does not know how to locate Spain on a map, as if in a typical Spanish street he would find many people capable of pointing to Belgium. Nor did we find a reflection of that at the educational level: 90% of Americans have completed secondary education, almost 30 points more than in Spain, and in the rankings from PISA obtain similar or higher scores.
But beyond the educational level, in the United States there is a consolidated tradition of knowledge and excellence. If we know so well the miseries and shortcomings of the United States, it is because Americans do high-quality research on the less pleasant phenomena of their society. If we can write well-documented articles about their social problems, it is because the country’s educational institutions have been documenting them for decades and because there is also a much older and deeper culture of transparency, registration and access to official information. Our Transparency Law is from 2013, yours It’s from 1967.
We could speak of hosting most of the best educational and research institutions in the world, or their almost 400 Nobel prizes that are practically three times those of any other country. However, it is not just about the knowledge elite. The americans go three times more to public libraries than the Spanish and they use in reading more or less the same time than us. Spend more In music than any other country in the world and They go to the movie theater twice that U.S. There is no reason to look down on them culturally, without even going to appreciate that a good part of the cultural content that is consumed here comes from there.
A truly diverse place
America is a complex place, in the best sense of the word. Wonderful in its complexity. A country that was born diverse not only in skin colors, but also in almost all aspects of social life. White supremacism has tried to eradicate some communities and subjugate others to an inferior life, but the idea of a homogeneous society that haunts other rich countries is simply impossible in that part of the world. The country has very serious problems of racism and inequality, but it is not afraid to look in the mirror: it studies its own imbalances in depth and has a much older, broader and well-documented social debate about them than almost any other country in the world.
As I say, the US is a complex country and difficult to explain. It resists the great generalizations and the broad brush, but much more to a very custom of ours to interpret everything that happens there in a Spanish political key. In my opinion, we have the bad habit of trying to import the worst excesses of his political life or social system, without worrying about understanding the country well and above all without also stopping to replicate his best successes. We copy a lot and copy badly.
We look to the US and that, I suppose, is inevitable. The country is still the strongest, although its weaknesses are more exposed than ever and have much more to do with its internal conflicts than with the state of the rest of the planet. To understand the future, one must try to understand the United States, what is lived there and the consequences it may have on its role in the world. That also includes adjusting our own expectations, since we usually want him not to go around imposing his will, but we also demand that he use his strength to support causes that we consider just. In both cases we are right, but it is a difficult balance.