Thursday in Berlin, before a crowd of up to two-hundred thousand people, “citizen of the world” Barack Obama gave a call-to-arms speech concerning the Trans-Atlantic relationship. The text of the speech is here. Video here.
The turnout for the speech blows my mind. It really does. Much of the turnout is attributable to the uniqueness of Obama’s candidacy of course. His life-story is an incredible one. But it is also profoundly a story about America. A story about the fundamentally unequal nature of the Trans-Atlantic relationship.
The throngs turned out to see Barack Obama to be sure. But they also turned out to see the America they once knew and loved. Make no mistake about it, Europeans are eager to fall in love with America again. To re-embrace everyone’s myth-laden perception of inspirational America.
Barack Obama is the most popular politician in the world right now because he seems to embody that which Europeans and others feel has been missing from America over the last eight years. Two hundred thousand German’s in a park demonstrate that maybe, after eight years, it is once again okay to be pro-American in Europe.
I am a true believer in American exceptionalism. In the belief that America is unique in the world. That American values and institutions are universally applicable.
That all one needs to do to be an American is to pledge allegiance to a belief system. That it is possible to be an American without being a citizen of the United States.
The United States is a nation. America is a concept. An idea. A perception.
It is this duality of citizenship which forever imbalances the relationship between the United States and Europe however.
It is the universality of American ideals which preserves American predominance in foreign affairs. Sure, we are militarily and economically dominant. But it is the moral and political dominance which causes 200,000 Germans to want to listen to an American call them to greatness. It is America’s role as a city-on-a-hill which causes the ambiguity which the rest of the world feels towards the United States.
What then of our relationship with Europe? No matter how much Europeans want it to be, it will never be a relationship of equals. Europe carries no such weight in the world. For two hundred years they have trailed in America’s wake politically, intellectually, technologically, militarily, morally. Europe has relied upon America to save them from themselves.
One of the right’s favorite criticisms of Obama regards his hubris. The premature Presidential Seal. The great speechifying. The trip to Europe. Even the Bush-like hard-headedness. But isn’t it that same hubris and self-importance with which we, as Americans, approach the world?
Obama ended his speech with a global call to arms.
People of Berlin — and people of the world — the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. Let us build on our common history, and seize our common destiny, and once again engage in that noble struggle to bring justice and peace to our world.
Can you imagine a person from any other nation coming here to the United States and issuing such a challenge? Not the leader of another nation mind you. Just a potential leader of a nation. A citizen of the world, as it were.
Yeah, me neither.