In both Great Britain and the United States, cultural orientations and societal values significantly influence the behavior and perception of politicians. Great Britain is often regarded as a class-oriented society, with distinct social strata, and individuals from different classes may have limited interaction with one another. In this context, British politicians often strive to project an image of dignity, rationality, and well-educated competence. This emphasis on sophistication and intellectualism serves as a demonstration of their capabilities.
In contrast, the United States perceives itself as a society without rigid class distinctions. The famous adage, as articulated by John Steinbeck, suggests that Americans see themselves not as poor but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. This viewpoint aligns with the idea that America is a land of boundless opportunity. Consequently, many Americans hold the belief that anyone can achieve the “American Dream” through hard work, determination, and grit, regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic status, educational background, or even innate intelligence. The emphasis in this perspective is on industriousness and determination, with these qualities taking precedence over IQ, formal education, or academic abilities.
This American perspective has significant implications for how politicians present themselves. Many American politicians believe there is no need to emulate their British counterparts, who often speak eloquently, employ sophisticated vocabulary, and project themselves as more intellectually refined than the average person.
Take the example of Bill Clinton, who, despite studying at an Ivy League university and demonstrating his intelligence, chose to portray himself as somewhat buffoonish and ill-disciplined at times. This portrayal led to the Monica Lewinsky scandal overshadowing his academic achievements and any intelligent contributions he may have made during his time in office. In fact, there was an occasion when a supporter asked him about the color of his underwear, and Clinton responded casually as if it were an entirely appropriate question to discuss with the President of the United States.
George W. Bush took this approach to another level. Despite his background as a patrician gentleman from New England who had studied at Yale, he adopted the persona of a “Texan peasant” during his presidency. This strategy involved speaking in a folksy and less articulate manner. Unsurprisingly, he reverted to his more eloquent style after leaving office.
The United States has a long history of anti-intellectualism, dating back to the “Know Nothing” tradition, which was revived by figures like Donald Trump. This trend is evident within the Republican Party, where neo-conservatives and neo-liberals, supported by numerous intellectuals and think tanks like the Cato and Heritage Institute, have been losing ground to populists. Donald Trump, for instance, has outperformed many of his Republican competitors, despite their superior education and articulateness.
The rise of social media has exacerbated this issue. Algorithms designed to generate traffic often prioritize simplistic click-bait articles over nuanced discussions. This benefits figures like Trump, who appeal to emotion and simplicity rather than intellectual depth, to the detriment of politicians like Chris Christie or Vivek Ramaswamy.
In summary, the contrast between British and American cultural orientations profoundly influences political behavior and communication styles. The American belief in the “American Dream” and the devaluation of intellectualism sometimes lead to anti-intellectualism in politics. Moreover, the emergence of social media, driven by algorithms favoring simplicity, has amplified this trend. Balancing approachability with intellectual rigor in political discourse remains a challenge in this evolving landscape.