The Treason System

The Germans have a word for it: Schadenfreude. It means, literally, harm-joy, and refers to the nasty but common human tendency to rejoice when harm comes to someone else. In English, we don't have the word, but we certainly have the phenomenon. Think of the nationwide jubilation over what happened to Richard Nixon (and, incidentally, to America) during the Watergate scandal. Today we have it again, with the media blitz over President Reagan's Iran-Contra connection.

Europeans are often perplexed by the way in which America's leading politicians and media figures seem to take pride in their ability to run their own country down and to hamper its effectiveness. There is such a thing as reasonable self-criticism, but to most Europeans, the American phenomenon involves Schadenfreude carried to the point of auto-déstruction.

It was not always so. The United States was once the home of jingoism: "My country, right or wrong!"—patriotism carried to the point of virtual blindness, when anything could be excused if it seemed to be in the national interest. Today we have the opposite phenomenon, in which breaches of every standard of confidentiality, civility, and honor are taken for granted, excused, even approved, if only they are not in the national interest and injure only our own nation. Most Europeans cannot understand the marathon flagellation of President Reagan...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here