“Trying to understand hatred with logic is like trying to measure
distance in kilograms.”1
—Ali Salem, Egyptian playwright and author
IF DISTANCE GIVES YOU PERSPECTIVE, BRUCE BAWER HAS AN excellent perch from which to figure out what has happened to America’s image abroad. He lives in Oslo, Norway, where he writes literary criticism as well as carefully crafted essays on religion, history, politics, and culture for publications ranging from The New York Times and The Nation to The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic.
A conservative, gay Episcopalian who once wrote for the rightwing American Spectator, but voted for Bill Clinton, Bawer is hard to pigeonhole sociopolitically. He moved to Oslo in 1999 so he could legally marry his Norwegian partner who had exhausted his American visa. And he says he’s been making comparisons between Europe and the United States ever since. Initially, Europe came out on top.
“I was tempted at one point to write a book lamenting Americans’ anti-intellectualism,” he once wrote, “their indifference to foreign languages, ignorance of history, indifference to academic achievement, susceptibility to vulgar religion and trash TV, and so forth.”2 But as time passed, he came to better appreciate his homeland’s qualities, as well as its faults. Lots of words that begin with “i” found their way onto his list of American virtues: individualism, imagination, initiative, inventiveness. “Americans,” he wrote, “were more likely to think for