In Singapore recently for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting, I was reminded again of the global influence, for good or ill, of American politics and culture. Given the 13 hour time difference, one wakes up in the morning just as U.S. television is in prime time. That means that if you turn on the hotel television to CNN, Fox, or in my case, in Singapore to CNBC, one is treated to the daily shout-fests that now pass for political dialogue in the United States.
In this case the topic happened to be the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, or KSM for those who want to portray themselves as insiders, in a U.S. court in New York. Turning on the television to Lawrence Kudlow (host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report) prior to my first cup of tea (this was Singapore not Lima), I was verbally and visually assaulted by Ann Coulter screeching at some deer-in-the-headlights type about the decision by the Attorney General. Honestly, I didn’t even listen to what she said other than to note that she was against it. And loudly against it.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know whom Ann Coulter speaks for other than herself, although she must have a following if she keeps getting invited to express her views on cable shows. But is this really the face of America that we want to show to the world, especially so early in the morning? I don’t know what she said and I don’t really care that much, but it’s not even the substance it’s the tone: mocking, irreverent and dismissive of alternative views.
If we want to abuse ourselves domestically by watching these programs in the United States, so be it. But why do we need to export the loudest, most aggressive aspects of American politics and culture to the rest of the world? Why not, for example, run a short camera shot for international transmissions of a burning fireplace or waves gently lapping at the seashore whenever these sorts of programs come on, like some people do on Christmas morning as the children tear open presents. Or even a test pattern. Goodness knows, that could do more for our standing overseas than even the closing of Guantánamo. For one, it would ensure that those who live in or travel to Asia would be able to wake up in peace.
*Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Vice President of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.