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Voice: Outrage Culture Is Ruining Foreign Policy Outrage Culture Is Ruining Foreign Policy...
August and September 2018 were two significant months for the outrage culture that has afflicted the U.S. public square in recent years. In August, the California Democratic Party called for a boycott of In-N-Out Burger because of a $25,000 donation that company made to the state Republican Party. A few weeks later, some Americans burned their sneakers over a Nike television ad featuring the blackballed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Ever since, I have wondered how foreign diplomats posted in Washington try to capture the current moment in U.S. politics. Do they and the foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, kings, and queens they serve grasp the near-constant state of indignation that has gripped society, fueling polarization and even fear in recent years? It seemed absurd to me that a beloved burger joint became the object of political ire among Democrats and that people, the majority of whom seemed to be supporters of President Donald Trump, were burning their sneakers. I cannot even imagine what those diplomatic cables say.
These episodes were no doubt regarded as the oddities and excesses of the current moment in American politics and may have been a source of confusion and dismay for U.S. allies, but the Kaepernick story and the burger boycott (which failed) had no effect on foreign policy. Yet this may be changing. In recent months, outrage—and its cousin, virtue signaling—have made it harder and harder to have a conversation about U.S. foreign policy. At a time when the world and U.S. priorities in it are changing, this sad state of affairs is putting Americans at a disadvantage.
There are already countries in the Middle East that elites in the United States tend to view through their own ideological prisms. As I wrote last summer: Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are “red” in the sense that Republicans tend to be—or are perceived to be—more supportive of these governments than Democrats. In turn, Iran, the 2015 nuclear deal, and Palestine are—or are perceived to be—“blue” given that Democrats tend to support engagement with the Iranians, back the nuclear agreement, and express sympathy with the Palestinians in greater numbers than Republicans. This state of affairs, I argued, was not a positive development. Looking back, I was a bit too Pollyannish for fear of giving offense—it is actually ludicrous, moronic, and dangerous.
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