In today's Post, Anne Appelbaum asks:
"Will foreigners accept a black American president?...I realize that this, too, may seem like a rather offensive question, particularly if one believes everything that one reads in newspapers. Germany, to take one random example, is at the moment experiencing something like its own version of Obamamania. The media appear to see the Democratic candidate as what a Der Spiegel journalist calls "a cross between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr."; the German foreign minister has been heard chanting "Yes, we can!"; and Obama T-shirts can be spotted in the hipper quarters of Berlin. This sort of enthusiasm isn't unique to Germany: British, French and even Polish newspapers splashed Obama and his candidacy on their front pages this past week, most accompanied by laudatory articles that solemnly proclaimed, "America has changed. But has Europe changed? And have Asia and the Middle East changed? I hate to put it so crudely, but -- European newspaper reporting to the contrary -- racism is not unique to the United States."
The world will welcome Obama. Nationalism trumps racism, and fear of an extra-national threat trumps such internal biases.
Even in this increasingly global world, nations tend to reduce other nations to single concepts--highly reductionistic and based on media driven perception of current events, and further narrowed by lack of personal experiences (or often research) and by protective impulses. This is human, and we see it here and elsewhere--until the globe is so reduced that such distortions naturally blend into the fuller understanding of more direct experience.
The relief, excitement, and surprise that nations will experience when they find that the current and typically reductionistic extranational concept that Bush equals America is false will override other biases in most of the world--except for those who also exist the world over, whose need for a fanatical hatred is more important than the "better angels of our nature."
There will be conspiracy theorists who will arise, with their fervent inventions and gap-ridden, convoluted, cherry-picked distortions and "evidence", as they always arrive at moments of change--they, too, even in their anxious desperation and fantasies of control, are canaries in the coal mine of change, however retrograde and pathological. And there will be those, as always, who find safety and security in the blinders and binders of their own personal pasts and traditions, generalizing widely, as they always have, from these to the world.
Most will respond with pleasure and hope--if accompanied by an understandable whiff of suspicion carried by the past, and perhaps a moment of equally understandable chest-puffing self-regard that we have seen the light--an acceptable excess, given the opportunities for restoration and repair ahead.