HOW would you view a person who slaps you on one cheek and kisses on the other, regularly? A few may offer both cheeks for slapping. But most would be angry, even if the kisses exceed slaps. Psychologists say this is a natural, not thankless, reaction. Evolution has hardwired our brains to prioritise harmful stimuli, as this ensured survival while we lived exposed in jungles. Many nations face such a dilemma with the US — the biggest source of aid, capital, visas etc. But, like a mad elephant hurtling through villages, this bumbling mammoth often devastates others as it blindly pursues its interests.
Contrast the US, the global hegemon which practises and preaches democracy, with China its challenger which does neither. One expects a despot to show more cruelty globally in trying to win. Yet, despite its dodgy global economic policies, its global politics is genteel compared with US atrocities like attacking countries and aiding despots crush dissent. China negates the logic that big powers must do all this to rise. Instead of aiding despots to survive, it charms successors.
Why does the US display such a split psyche, and blinkered behaviour? Split-brain occurs when the two hemispheres get severed and act on their own urges, as if two persons occupy one body. There is not one, but two different Americas today, drifting apart, not talking mutually and physically divided like severed hemispheres.
The ‘good’ liberal US largely covers its two coasts and the Midwest, votes Democrat and produces most of its wealth, creativity and humanity. The ‘bad’ conservative US, much of it agrarian, covers its remaining vastness. It produces less of its wealth but most of the support for its elephant-like acts. It votes Republican, whose party symbol is aptly an elephant! Both are delicately poised electorally. Who prevails will decide America’s and the world’s fate.
The contrast is vivid in this election cycle, with the foul-mouthed Trump reflecting the crudeness, racism and greed of right-wing USA but Democrats showing some sense. In fact, the fair-minded Bernie’s strong showing may signal the eventual rise of a third US more progressive than halfway Democrats, since the division here is not physical but temporal. His supporters are mainly youngsters. While Trump courts votes by blaming US problems on migrants, Muslims and China, Bernie correctly links them mainly to the unfair US economic system.
Should outsiders not feel ire at US slaps, given its kisses? Beyond the evolutionary subjective bias towards negative stimuli, even the cold objective calculus is damning. Stiglitz, the iconic US writer, calculates that it recovers twice as much through unfair aid, trade and investment policies, and capital and brain in-flight than it gives poorer states. The damage from its global politics worsens things. So if the US wonders why so many dislike it globally despite its many goods, it is because so many states receive ‘bad’ USA’s slaps more than ‘good’ USA’s kisses, eg Latin America and Muslim states.
Those receiving far more kisses than slaps have more positive views, eg, Europe and India. But not all anti-Americanism is justifiable, eg, terrorism or conspiracy theories about US complicity in 9/11 and the attacks on Malala. Pakistanis also wonder why it keeps asking them to do more on terrorism despite their sacrifices. But evolution has hardwired American brains to prioritise negative stimuli too. Like US policies, many Pakistani policies are bad too. But obviously when mammoths go berserk they cause more damage.
So, people have the right to express ire at bad US actions. But does this extend to unrepentant dual-citizens? Many feel that for anyone living, studying or even holidaying in the US, criticising it is hypocrisy. This is like saying that anyone associated so with Pakistan must not criticise it. Bad rulers would surely relish such rules.
The anti-colonialist Jinnah studied in the UK and even planned on settling there before returning to lead the freedom drive. People have the right to go abroad and still criticise the host state’s bad policies so long as they do not implement them. Criticising bad policies is no hypocrisy but a democratic right. And I use this right with relish against both my governments for both deserve criticism: one a global bully, one a regional wannabe.
Obviously, both have many pluses too. As for the ‘killer’ question about whom I back when both often clash, the answer is easy: neither, but the truth. And the truth usually is with neither fully. So when my prime minister (Sharif) met my president (Obama) recently, teary-eyed though I was due to the twin patriotism involved, I could still see the follies of both.
This leaves the title question still pending. That answer is easy too: love ‘good’ USA, confront ‘bad’ USA peacefully and hope for the fast growth of their ‘beautiful’ toddler sibling embodied by Bernie.
The writer is a political economist and a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016