Carelessness, Ignorance Damages America’s Reputation

Emily Fong, Staff Writer

These days the citizens of our country do not have much reason to fear impending doom. America’s literacy rate is nearly 100%, its standards of living continue to climb, and its economy seems to be recovering, despite the fact that even Jon Stewart has called out the incompetence of the US congress.

Even with North Korea threatening nuclear war from its soapbox, American citizens sit back and crack jokes, likening North Korea nuclear experiments to Wile E. Coyote’s antics. Storify, a website that tracks similar Tweets, has a playlist called “Top North Korea Jokes of the Day.”

All of these factors contribute to a common stereotype of US citizens that is seen as fact abroad: we are a nation of ambivalent, self-righteous snobs. Stereotypes are not based entirely on fact, but no one can escape the black hole that is public opinion. A friend of mine joked about telling people overseas that she was from the British Isles and she felt that she received less hostility from the natives than when she told them she was American.

It’s time we realize that we cannot keep expecting the rest of the world to come crawling and begging to the United States for leadership. We’re losing much of our economic edge to nations like the rapidly developing China, according to The site and its accompanying magazine, published by the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, aims to showcase US international policy. Authors, both American and from around the world, publish editorials and news reports for a wide range of audiences from students to businesspeople.

Politically, we are mired in a spider web of complicated foreign issues. A quick look at The Guardian’s US foreign policy page details issues from the US involvement in the Syrian Civil War, rising tensions with China, new secretary of state John Kerry’s concerns about Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and of course, the situation with North Korea.

Yet for some reason we are still fixated on Rebel Wilson of MTV and what Kanye West decides to name his kid. In fact, ratings from the 2013 MTV Movie Awards rose 20% in its core demographic of 12-34 year olds, according to industry reports published on sites such as and Entertainment Weekly. One would have to wonder what other news was going on around us while we were fixated on the new Avengers clip.

To be fair, it is not nearly as much fun to talk about Obama’s drone strike policy as it is to gossip about Jake and Tamara’s relationship status on the new episode of Awkward. But the degree to which the average person ignores foreign affairs or brushes them aside is astonishing. A YouTube video by the TheOneCampaign, entitiled “What Americans Think About Foreign Aid” reveals that an average person knows little about the United States’ fiscal impact on the rest of the world. Many of the interviewees admitted to not knowing where US government funding is going or how much is actually being spent (less than 2% of the federal budget was used for foreign aid or relief in 2012, while many interviewees thought it was over 20% instead).

National Public Radio’s “50 Years of Government Spending” chart clearly shows that the US’s contributions to foreign aid in the last half century peaked in 1962, at 5% of the federal budget. The numbers have only declined since.

Nevertheless, I still think it is vital to have an informed opinion on US international relations. We share this world with many other governments, economies, cultures, and ethnicities and it’s important to keep that in mind when marathoning through episodes of Game of Thrones.