I spent fall 2016 studying abroad in Seville, Spain. From across the ocean, I watched as President Donald Trump was elected. I listened to Spaniards quote satirical “Simpsons” episodes, making fun of Americans. I weathered all the American stereotypes thrown at me. Now I’m back, and being an American feels different. Here are some of my observations.
Toward the end of the 15th century, Queen Isabel of Castile and King Filipe of Aragon united their kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula through their marriage, creating the beginnings of modern-day Spain. These monarchs defeated the last of the Moorish kings in Granada, finally expelling any Muslim influence from Spain and financed Christopher Columbus’s voyage toward the East Indies, on which he discovered the Americas.
In the centuries that followed, Spain would come to dominate the New World, with colonies spreading from the southern half of present-day U.S. to the tip of South America. At one point in time, Spain controlled the majority of the New World, most of the Old World, strategic ports along the shoreline of Africa and had major commercial control in Asia. With gold and silver pouring in from the mines in the Americas, Spain was the world’s superpower.
From 4,200 Miles away: Even when studying, American college students can’t help but bingeI spent fall 2016 studying abroad in Seville, Spain. From across the ocean, I watched as President Donald Trump was elected. Read…
But soon after, the Dutch started utilizing a financial system that facilitated investment and the growth of huge companies, beginning the creation a worldwide commercial empire. The British came to dominate international trade and colonization, the French surged in power and the Protestant Reformation undermined the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Charles V. The Spanish monarchy plunged into debt because of the numerous wars it waged, desperately trying to hold onto power. By 1830, Spain had lost the majority of its American colonies.
The empire had fallen.
Spanish people today live with this knowledge of their history, the pride in the great Spanish Empire and the knowledge empires can and do fall.
Americans, on the other hand, are living during the days of their empire. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has dominated world trade and international politics. We have the largest economy and the most powerful military in the world. We view ourselves as the defenders of democracy and the leader of the free world. We like to think of ourselves as the world’s superpower, its moral authority and its policeman.
Our history lessons depict colonial America as a great nation in its infancy; 19th century America has a nation of hardy, steadfast explorers conquering the continent and our manifest destiny; and 20th century America as the reluctant but powerful ally bringing peace and the end to the world wars.
From 4,200 Miles Away: It’s OK to be late sometimes — you’ll probably be happier that wayI spent fall 2016 studying abroad in Seville, Spain. From across the ocean, I watched as President Donald Trump was elected. Read…
Our news is self-centered, focused largely on President Donald Trump and framing international affairs in terms of the U.S. response. We know little of the world beyond our borders, we don’t bother to learn another language and we resent any implication we are losing our power. Americans fear the massive growth of the Chinese economy and ignore evidence our educational system is falling behind. We demonstrate American pride and nationalistic spirit even when American actions or accomplishments don’t warrant it.
We could use a history lesson in what happens to empires. The Greek, the Roman, the Ottoman, the Spanish, the British, and the Soviet empires all came crashing down. Our place at the top of the world order is temporary.
We need to balance American pride with realism, to understand our economy and military afford us with global influence but not absolute power. We need to accept the end of American hegemony with grace and the foresight to adapt in a more egalitarian, globalized world.
Teresa Turco ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in psychology and economics.