Are We All Just Gibbering Chimpanzees with the Attention Span of Goldfish?

Like many of you, I have communicated with a number of friends abroad about the result of the U.S. election. Every one of them has been genuinely shocked, and, like many here in the U.S., simply cannot believe it. The potential ramifications – for America and the world — are only just beginning to set in.

I recently exchanged views with a friend in New Zealand, whose response was so refreshingly (and brutally) honest and insightful that I wanted to share them. What follows are his thoughts, which I felt might resonate with others in the U.S. and around the world. Indeed, he seems much better informed about the state of affairs in America than many of my compatriots. Below are his comments:

It has been a fascinating spectacle from outside of your country as well, but not in a good way. We reflect on what the election brought out in terms of our understanding of the nature of the American people. I can see why you refer to non-U.S. citizens as “aliens” when we enter the U.S. because I can certainly not connect with a lot of the thinking of U.S. citizens either. Bible obsession, gun culture, celebrity culture, tribalism, the high regard for extrinsic trappings of wealth and success that forgives all moral failings and lack of humanity, the cynicism of the elite, the gullibility of the exploited. Alien thinking by my standard. Not everyone of course, but too many. I’d hasten to add that the short sightedness and collective stupidity is not a unique feature of American politics or the American people. We suffer from it here as well, but of course our ability to amplify it across the globe are nowhere near as great.

Your political system desperately needs an overhaul for the good of the planet, if not just for your domestic well- being. Term limits are a great idea but you also need a proportional system like we have here and in Germany to give voice to other opinions and reasoned debate. The winner take all approach is I’m sure a contributor to the political race to the bottom. The fact that people who voted against the establishment also voted in the establishment in the Congress and Senate makes me just wonder whether there is any consistency in thinking or principle, or are we all just gibbering chimpanzees with the attention span of goldfish successfully manipulated by demagogues?

Of course the world shouldn’t have any say in your domestic politics, but we have a huge stake in U.S. leadership when it comes to multilateral issues, as you so rightly describe in one of your articles. We may sneer at the willful stupidity and ignorance portrayed by your political leaders, but I am most fearful of what a Trump presidency means for our global commitment to combat climate change. This existential issue goes beyond any short-term concerns around global security and the ability to deal with other despots in Moscow, Beijing, and Riyadh. We all lose for having a climate change denier in charge of the most influential country in the world. You’d think that someone who has already had to build a seawall to protect his golf course in Ireland and is looking at having to do something similar for his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida might be better informed on the science. But then again, the instinct to plunder for short term gain is probably stronger – how else to explain the rise of Sarah Palin, Harold Hamm, Myron Ebell and other Neanderthals touted for the new administration?

New Zealand has always prided itself on its global citizenship and support for multilateral institutions, rather than blind support for traditional allies like the U.S. Hence our muted response to the “coalition of the willing” and our engagement in your middle eastern adventures. Your secretary of state, John Kerry, is currently visiting New Zealand to help celebrate a joint NZ-US proposal for the protection of the world’s oceans with the establishment of the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea. Is this another “bad deal” that will be undermined by your president elect?”