Public relations–wise, the gun-control movement could hardly have a worse champion than CNN’s Piers Morgan. He’s haughty, he’s self-righteous, and, worst of all, he’s foreign. For the Second Amendment freaks who see Barack Obama as suspiciously un-American, his government as potentially tyrannical, and themselves as heirs to the gun toters who shot their way to liberty at Lexington and Concord, what better foil than a modern-day gun confiscator who actually is English. For years, American conservatives have been calling American liberals wannabe Europeans. Now, with America witnessing its nastiest culture-war skirmish since Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the man helping to lead the liberal charge really does hail from that socialist dystopia across the pond. No wonder more than 100,000 Americans have called for his deportation to the land of Neville Chamberlain and King George III.
And yet, when I watch Piers Morgan these days, I smile. It’s not because Morgan’s views on guns are correct, although I think they are. Or because his arguments are especially clever. What I love about Morgan is precisely what the gun enthusiasts hate: his foreignness. When American liberals discuss their fellow citizens’ love affair with guns, they often strain to show cultural sensitivity, either because they know it’s politically necessary or because they don’t want to sound like foreigners in their own land. Thus, they pledge fealty to the Second Amendment (even if they think it’s an absurd anachronism) and vow never to infringe on the rights of hunters (even if they consider shooting ducks both idiotic and gross). Not Morgan. When denouncing America’s gun culture, he generally sounds both astonished and appalled, like a missionary who has just been told that the natives he’s been sent to civilize periodically barbecue their wives. Again and again, he cites statistics from his native England, and other more advanced societies where gun murder is rare, as if merely being exposed to the norms of the wider world will show Americans how benighted they really are.
That’s what I like. I like the fact that, as an outsider, Morgan has not been desensitized to America’s gun mania in the way so many of us natives have. I like the fact that he thinks Americans can actually learn from the rest of the world. And most of all, I like the fact that Americans are getting to see, night after night on TV, what it’s like to be judged by the rest of the planet. It’s not fun, but we’d better get used to it.
Morgan, in his way, embodies Globalization 2.0. Globalization 1.0, whose praises Bill Clinton and Tom Friedman sang to great effect in the 1990s, was really Americanization under a different name. We sent our investment bankers, economists, political consultants, and constitutional lawyers across the globe to judge, and remake, the economic, legal, and political systems of those behind-the-curve nations that had not yet embraced deregulated democracy. But today, with America’s power in relative decline, Globalization 2.0 means that other nations also influence and judge us, whether it’s a company from the United Arab Emirates buying our ports, a Mexican billionaire buying part of The New York Times, or Chinese officials lecturing us on our federal debt. Americans, especially hypernationalistic Americans, don’t like that very much, but to succeed in the years to come we’re going to have accept it. We’re going to have to get better at understanding, and adapting to, the way foreigners view us. That’s why Al Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV could prove useful. The more Americans watch non-Americans watch us, the better we’ll do in a world where our prosperity depends on meeting their expectations.
Somewhere, Alex Jones is readying his flamethrower. Let him. The next round in our endless culture war will likely pit not merely black and brown versus white, and secular versus religious. It will pit those Americans who can accept our increased interpenetration by foreign immigrants, products, money, and mores against those cultural protectionists who see it as the end of the republic.
The fight over Piers Morgan is laying bare the terms of that new struggle. And that’s a good thing, especially if the supercilious, judgmental Brit wins.