Introduction — Imprints from inside America — American footprints abroad — Images from the image machines — The United States looms: measuring reality — Conveying and distorting images — Predispositions — Romanticism versus democratic liberalism — Traditional societies — Disappointment: envy and the American dream — Dealing with it
Since September 11, 2001, the extensive literature on the global image of the United States leaves the reader with the erroneous impression that foreigners’ views of America are normally negative and impervious to change. In fact they are complex, emotional, frequently internally contradictory, and often change quickly. Barry A. Sanders explains how people’s views of the United States are formed and what can be done to alter them. He examines the images that people receive about the United States as well as the biases and predispositions that influence which of these images are called forth from memory.
Biases can be pro-American or anti-American, but even the anti-American biases often have pro-American roots, Sanders finds. Sometimes those who are most devoted to the United States are the ones who ultimately despise the nation out of frustration or disappointment. Many people have constructed images and predispositions related to a fantasy of what “America” might be-Atlantis or Eldorado. For such people the United States is a collection of personal hopes or fears disconnected from reality. If their ambitions to taste the American dream are thwarted, their fury can exceed that of any other adversary. Thwarted ambition is the essence of envy-a powerful emotion. Closely related to those who want to experience “America” as they dream of it are those who have demanding expectations for the United States to perform at home and abroad in ways that it may not attain. They react to their disappointment.
Sanders employs this analysis to guide American public diplomacy efforts. Some predispositions are so fixed that no effort to affect “hearts and minds” will bear fruit. Some predispositions may be highly susceptible to improvement. This difference will allow a more strategic approach to foreign populations with an emphasis on the attitudes of the persuadable portion of the population. Sanders concludes with an analysis of the five images he says would make the most difference in altering attitudes about the United States and a discussion of how those images might be promoted among foreign audiences.