U.S. Credibility to Europeans (After a Government Shutdown and a Spying Scandal)

After the government shutdown of 1995, most would think that the Republican Party had learned their lesson. Pushing the policies attributed to his “Contract with America,” Newt Gingrich had first tried his ‘temper tantrum’ tactic with the Senate and President Clinton instead of voting on raising the debt ceiling. Sound familiar? Although this strategy had won Gingrich his policy compromise 21 days after shutting down the government, the party’s image was shot and it had lost its political edge among Americans.

Cut scene to an America 18 years after the Clinton administration, we have another eager Democratic president and stubborn Republican House. Following Gingrich’s strategy, the Republican Party decided again to lead another government shutdown movement. This time, after 16 days of government shutdown, not only had the party’s image been shot again, but now the party is more divided than ever as moderate Republicans criticize the party’s flawed tactic. Even though Americans are questioning the party’s credibility as a whole, we should be more worried about questioning the country’s credibility as a whole.

As Americans, we aren’t aware of how the world perceives us, especially our own allies. Studying abroad in Madrid has only made me all too perceptive of how Europe actually views the government shutdown in the US. Europe doesn’t see the US as divided into Republicans and Democrats, as we do, they just see America. Instead of seeing the Republicans shutting down the government, they see America shutting down its own government – what does this do to the credibility of the number one super power of the world? The answer is that it does more damage more than we thought it could.

Europeans see this shutdown skit as nothing more but entertaining theater, a puppet show costing the US about $24 million. To European countries, shutting down the government is unfathomable, yet the US has managed to do it twice in the past 20 years. The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes that “what Washington currently offers up is a spectacle, but one in which the spectators feel more like crying.” If the ‘spectators’ being mentioned is Europe, why would they feel like crying? Shouldn’t they be instead celebrating at their frenemy’s slow and tortuous downfall as they eagerly climb to the number one spot?

Although the US’s credibility is incredibly damaged, European countries still hope for the best because their own markets and system of government depends on it. Throughout history, the United States has marketed itself to countries all over the world and everybody bought it. Now that the process of westernization has been set, everyone is connected, through the good and the bad. Even though people in Europe are scoffing at America’s short fuse, they still think the United States is the best at everything.

How can Europeans still perceive as the US being the best at everything when they can’t even get into national parks and take pictures of the Capitol building? The answer is American companies. Yes, it’s true that the US government shut down, but Europeans everywhere are reading their news on an iPhone while sipping a Coca-Cola light. Even though Europeans don’t believe in American politics, they still do believe in America and their successes. Media is saying that the US is flawed but how could one believe that when US companies are constantly projecting the country as number one, as the best.

However, how much value are these companies actually contributing to American worth? Is America really the best because of our soft drinks and high-tech smart phones? Even though American companies do a great job in marketing the US so that Europe has an unwavering confidence for it, this ‘confidence’ is completely false in its sentiment. American companies aren’t a direct reflection of American success, just like a mattress ad sale in a newspaper doesn’t reflect the success of that mattress company especially if the company is $16 trillion in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy.

There is no easy way to solve things without increasing the national debt or worsening the recession. American credibility had been wavering for a while and the shock of the government shutdown had only made it that much clearer. However, Europe is still hanging on, more so than Americans. With the crisis becoming more apparent in the streets of European countries, people are still hoping that there is something better out there. People still believe that the ‘American dream’ is not only a possibility, but a guarantee. I grew up taught to believe in this dream. But in a time where the youth unemployment rate is 16% in the United States, I’ve realized that this dream is actually a fantasy covering up for this global nightmare.


*Adrianna Rodriguez is a junior at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Illinois. She is currently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain at the Instituto Internacional and working as an intern for Planet-BPM.com.

**Image by MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

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