Isolationism or Anti-Emperialism?

What’s in a name? I won’t do justice to the recent Pew Research report titled, "U.S. Seen as Less Important, China as More Powerful: Isolationist Sentiment Surges to Four-Decade High," but I can’t let escape the critical nature of the language of propaganda (although he denies it, Chomsky’s work in linguistics surely is the foundation for his interest in social policy. The use, and misuse, of language is a central feature of corporate hegemony since 1945).

The Pew Research Center released public opinion polling data that they describe as reflecting a shift toward "isolationism." What is fascinating about propaganda is that the science of public-opinion polling is often deeply mired in the science of propaganda-making. Using the term isolationism is a negative valuation of what could be more accurately described as anti-emperialism. Reading the article while mentally replacing the terms isolationism/isolationist with anti-emperialism/ist casts a more interesting light on the continuing "democracy deficit," the term used to describe the failure of the government power structure to reflect the will of the people.

Isolationist carries a negative, passive connotation of withdrawal from interchange, and also has as the referent, the American people. Anti-emperialist refers to an active choice to rebuke the powerful for their foreign policies, and refers not to the people so much as to the negative valuation of the actions of those in power. What a difference one word makes!

Much can be gleaned from the data themselves. I’ll pull out three points:

1) About half of all Americans think that the "United States should ‘mind its own business internationally’ and let other countries get along the best they can on their own."

2) Seemingly self-contradictory, the Americans polled support unilateral action with respect to international relations. "…44% say that because the United States ‘is the most powerful nation in the world, we should go our own way in international matters, not worrying about whether other countries agree with us or not.’" Why polling researchers do not ask clarifying questions is beyond me. Asking questions in an "out of the blue" context by calling people on the telephone, then asking them to answer questions, is surely fraught with complex nuances in meaning, and fears of not giving the pollster the "right" answers. I’ve never seen this quandary addressed directly in any poll. Why don’t they ask the obvious question? So much of polling seems to be afflicted with polling artifacts generated by the artificial, and intensely loaded, context of polling.

3) What is troubling, and should trouble the mass media, are two misconceptions. a) "44% of the public now says China is the world’s leading economic power, while just 27% name the United States." and, b) almost one in five (18%) think China is the world’s leading military power. Far, far removed from the facts.

You can discover much more of interest in this recent poll—




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