Monday, November 15, 2004


The empire strikes out

This says what I'm thinking about America's future much better than I could:
On Borrowed Time (II)

Posted by James Wolcott

In late October, the Financial Times had a front page story "Well-known US brands see sales in Europe fall." Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Marlboro, and GM were all revealing problems echoing those "already faced by Disney, Wal-Mart and Gap."

Corporate chiefs dismissed the connection between falling sales and rising anti-Americanism. "But the timing of the decline lends credence to warnings by a marketing and advertising group after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that US brands could face trouble. 'My sense is we are seeing a transfer of anger and resentment from foreign polices to things American,' said Keith Reinhard, chairman of DDB Worldwide, an advertisting agency owned by Omnicon."

"Kevin Roberts, chief executive of the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, expects US brands such as Coca-Cola to face 'growing resistance from Europe and Asia' because of opposition to US political policies. He said: 'Consumers are going to be pissed off at having Brand America rammed down their throats.' He said that US multinationals would have do develop a advertising camouflage campaign, tailoring their marketing to local markets and deemphasizing the American connection."

Coke's chief marketing officer indicated the opposite, saying that Coke would do less "tactical" local advertising and devote more attention to Coke's broad appeal. "We want to promote the bigger global ideas that are based on universal human insights."

Aye, but here's the rub. America itself no longer promotes universal human insights. It thumps its exceptionalism everywhere it stomps. It is perceived as the overdog unchained.

An entire chapter in Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire is devoted to America's retreat from universalism. "One of the essential forces of empires, a principle behind both their dynamism and stability, is universalism, the capacity to treat all men and peoples as equals."

Instead, the US has curled up into an angry ball at home while lashing out at much of the world. "it pretends to incarnate an exclusive human ideal, to know all the secrets of economic success, and to produce the only movies worth watching. The recent boasting about its presumed social and cultural hegemony, the progress of its ever expanding narcissism, is only one of the many signs of the dramatic decline of America's real economic and military power and of its universalism most of all."

At what point will corporate chieftains in the US, particularly those who rely heavily on exports, going to realize and acknowledge that Bushism is bad for business?

And not just abroad but domestically in the long run? In the Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida convincingly argues and documents that the ingredients for future prosperity and well-being are Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. Under the last T, he emphasizes diversity, sexual as well as ethnic. A gay-friendly community is a creative community and a creative community is a forward-thinking, open, freer, technologically cutting-edge community. "[A] place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people," Florida writes. As a reporter friend of Florida says, "Where gay households abound, geeks follow."

Does that sound like the kind of America that reelected Bush last week? A country open to science, skepticism, dissent, tolerance, liberal values, and sexual diversity? The evangelical ascendence in America is yet another indicator of decline and sullen pouting. Unable to tell the world what to do, it's going to tell other Americans what to do, how to live, and how to get right with God.

No wonder Richard Florida, whose Rise of the Creative Class shone with such optimism, is bringing out a book in 2005 called Flight of the Creative Class: Why America Is Losing the Competition for Talent. If America is losing that competition, it's the rest of the world that's benefitting, hastening the erosion of the American empire.
We've had it so good for so long that we think that's simply the way the world is supposed to be, ignoring (or perhaps never knowing) the many factors that led to America's recent period of suzerainty. And, not knowing leads to not understanding which leads to not appreciating which leads to squandering.

I wonder what the moral value of stagnation and decline is?

America is going downhill. If Bush does not kill us all we will soon see the end of the american century.
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America is going downhill. If Bush does not kill us all we will soon see the end of the american century.
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