Americans are as dumb as you are (or less so)

The Rest Of The World had a field day laughing at Americans last week. Ironically, the catalyst for this was the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare. Many people (particularly in Europe) seem to think that opposition to any kind of nationally operated healthcare system is a sign of brazen, deep American stupidity. So when the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was not unconstitutional, and a good number of Americans complained about the decision, lots of people on this side of the pond laughed.

Picture by MattHurst on Flickr

Which is odd. Because what I saw was a smart country working its way through a complicated issue. I tried to imagine, say, Britain trying to introduce a national health service these days. I failed to see how it would. And I got more than a little irritated by the sneering assumption that Americans who don’t think like Europeans are somehow dumb.

I’ve met dumb Americans. I’ve met dumb French people. I’ve met seriously stupid English people. I’ve met some spectacularly idiotic Australians. There are dumb people everywhere.

But when I read things – history, literature, websites, even Tweets – I see Americans in the round?as smart, connected, hard-working, resilient, articulate, well-educated, proud and self-aware people. Those of us who take pleasure in mocking those things which look “dumb” to Europeans – gun-ownership, say – make no attempt to understand American history and how it got where it is today. Even the most stupid Tea Party anti-tax goon knows more about American history than 99.9% of those mocking American decisions and American instincts from this side of the Atlantic. We Europeans fail to understand the fundamental differences in relations between individual and state in that country, and how they came about from its unique, glittering, epic history.

The depressing thing about stating this kind of very obvious truth is how inevitable the response will be. There are those for whom America is some overfed combination of dumb and evil, the big fat overstimulated teenage kid in the playground. Nothing anyone can say will convince those people of the wrongness of their prejudices. But they are wrong.

3 thoughts on “Americans are as dumb as you are (or less so)

  1. Hi Lloyd,

    the problem with American history knowledge and its use in contemporary policy debate is that it is typically employed very selectively. With a country the size of the US it is easy to find a historic event that supports your belief no matter how outside of the mainstream, a bit like always having a bible quote to back whatever view you’re espousing.

    As the most trivial example, those that chose to see the writers of our constitution as gods to be revered for all time whose words needs to be interpreted LITERALLY tend to gloss over the support of slavery.

    Having lived in the US and two major EU countries, my experience is that the debate is generally at a much higher level on this (the European) side of the Atlantic. My personal opinion is that the existence of viable third (or fourth and fifth) parties is very good for the system. The two party system of the US stifles debate and serious discussion as the two effectively operate as an oligopoly.

    my 2 cents,


  2. I would have to disagree with you. “Even the most stupid Tea Party anti-tax goon knows more about American history than 99.9% of those mocking American decisions and American instincts from this side of the Atlantic. ” The US education system sucks. Likely a greater percentage of people in Europe than people educated in US public and religious schools can name the US Vice President of the United States.

    If we remove any possible vitriol in your statement: “Even the most stupid [American] knows more about American history than [those] from this side of the Atlantic.” your statement becomes likely less accurate. Stating Americans have a clue about their own history and heritage is unfortunately false. Our history books are one sided, only cover our ‘heroics’, gloss over or omit our mistakes, and are generally aimed at making us patriots rather than scholars.


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