America is not a right-wing outlier

Western Europe is not the global standard and America is far more tolerant than her critics want to admit

I am often told that the United States is a right-wing nation, that we should catch up to the rest of the world. America should be more like Europe is a common refrain among many reformers in this country as well as many, well, Europeans. As someone born and raised in Europe, I lived on the continent for around thirty years altogether, I confess to some sympathy with this idea. There are many things that Europe just does better than the US – if nothing else, European bread puts America to shame, especially Ħobż Malti but I’m naturally biased towards the Maltese. I’m not saying you can’t find good bread in the US but you do have to find it, great bread is the default in *most of* Europe. But my little bread digression begs the question: which Europe are we talking about? Which Europeans? Contrary to popular belief, America is not a global outlier, western Europe is not the political standard, and the USA is far, far less conservative than American liberals and many European observers would like to admit.

Credit: Washington Post

One significant measure of liberal attitudes is tolerance to individuals and groups of different races or religions. Now, while the US has a big problem with racists – and with racist cops – we are not even close to the racist attitudes shown by the rest of the world. America consistently scores better on tolerance for those of other races than most of the world, including nearly every country in western Europe which, as we will see, is what most people mean when they say “Europe.” Europe as a whole, not the arbitrary fifteen or so countries of the west, does not score well when we measure racist attitudes. Europe has never grappled with their blatant anti-gypsy (Roma) attitudes and there is plenty of evidence that Antisemitism is growing pretty much all over the continent.

That Americans are far more accepting of those different than them, both as a matter of policy and public attitude, than Europeans is further demonstrated by their respective views on immigration. The majority of Americans (63%) think that immigration is a net positive and think the country should accept more immigrants while over half of Europeans think the exact opposite. America accepts more immigrants and refugees than any other country on Earth by a very large margin, far surpassing any European country or even Canada. Events of the last few years have been changing laws and attitudes in both the US and EU, largely negatively in both, but even now Americans are more willing than nearly every other country on the globe to accept immigrants.

Related, the US stands out from most western nations, most nations around the world in fact, in having racial and gender based affirmative action policies to attempt to eliminate employment and education discrimination. Some countries in Europe, like France, have gender-based affirmative action policies but in just about all of them there is no racial or ethnic equivalent. Reasonable people can disagree as to the ethics, efficacy, fairness, or constitutionality of racial affirmative action in the US but there is no reasonable way to shoehorn America’s view on race into the category of conservative. We at least try to address the issue of racism in employment and education through government policy.

Gay marriage is legal in all fifty of the United States with 63% of the general public in favor of it. Twenty-one states, plus Guam, Puerto Rico, and DC, have laws prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment in the public and private sector. Gay marriage is not only illegal in most of Europe, including roughly half of the European Union, over half of Europeans are not in favor of it becoming so, including many EU countries. In 2012, fully two-thirds of LGBT residents of the EU said they were scared of holding hands in public versus while 69% of Americans support federal legislation protecting LGBT people. This makes the US vastly different than most of the world, where being gay is a literal crime.

Gender equality? The US ranks higher than most of the world, most of Europe in fact, including half of the EU. Much is made of the recent resurgence of anti-abortion laws in certain US states but when it comes to abortion rights, America is one of the most progressive places in the world. Europe as a whole is extremely permissive towards the subject but even the most conservative US state’s abortion laws pale in comparison to the laws in Poland, Cyprus, and my own Malta. Even the abortion rules in the UK aren’t as lax as you’d find in most US states and Ireland only legalized it last year.

Many people say that the overt religiosity of our politicians and voters sets America apart from the world but only if the world extends from Austria to Portugal. Pretty much every country in eastern Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and most of Asia is far more religious and conservatively religious too. Just like western Europe, the fastest growing faith in the US is “None.

So why do we hear the constant refrain that America is such a global outlier? Three main reasons: guns, climate change, and health care. We stand apart from nearly every industrialized nation in not providing European-style universal health care, our political discourse about climate change is the most divisive in possibly the whole world, and we definitely are unique in our approach to self-defense and the right to own a gun.

But is this enough to place US politics as a whole outside the mainstream? I would say no. Politics is much more complicated than that, reductionist arguments that ignore 75% of a party platform, that pretend America is some sort of political monolith, can be safely ignored. The USA is a good global citizen, responsible (mostly) to her citizens who are (mostly) not the crazy Florida-man stereotype that the world loves to read about. Americans, and Europeans, who like to tell others how different we are really should travel more. And not to Reykjavik, or Madrid, or Glasgow, or Vienna. Go to Manila, Moldova, Cairo, Buenos Aires, or Qingdao. The world is not represented by a dozen western European countries; we’d all get more things done if we quit pretending it’s so.

Thomas Brown is a history teacher and recovering political consultant hiding out in the American South. He is also managing editor of The Swamp and has been published in The Bipartisan PressAlaska Native NewsGENHuman EventsTimes of IsraelDialogue & Discourse. Follow him at his Medium page and argue with him on Twitter: @reallythistoo.

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