Too much power and authority is considered unwise or even dangerous by Americans. Politicianswho appear to seek power for its own sake are even more suspect than those seeking office for economic gain. As a result, politicians are especially adept at presenting an image of a "good oldboy" -- a submissive posture that diffuses the voter's hostility toward anyone with power andinfluence. For the same reason, Americans like to poke fun at symbols of power, and they telljokes about their political leaders incessantly.Government is viewed as a necessary evil and is generally disliked and disparaged. MostAmericans think their government is too large and that control over people is immoral; they like toquote Lord Acton: "All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This distrust of authority leads to a certain ambivalence since Americans also admire decisive leaders. Giventheir attitude toward government, it is not surprising that many Americans take a dim view of politics and politicians.In fact, many Americans want nothing to do with political life, the result being a kind of apathy onthe part of the American electorate. In a 1984 article, columnist Flora Lewis pointed out that inWest Germany's last election, 89.1 percent of voters cast ballots; in France, 85.8 percent; inBritain, 72.7 percent; in Spain, 79.6 percent, in Italy, 89 percent. In the American presidentialelection of 1984, however, only 52.9 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots; and in 1988, only50.16 percent voted.Basically, Americans are practical people who Iike challenges and enjoy solving problems. Theypride themselves on being pragmatic. They like to handle their own problems and they chafe atauthority. In business and professional life Americans are ambitious, competitive, and hard-driving. Once they reach a goal, they set another. In negotiations they like to win, which explainsthe popularity of books such as
Looking Out for Number One
by Robert J. Ringer.Most Americans admire hard work and success, and they don' t feel ambivalent or hesitant aboutenjoying it. Their strong drive for recognition-as evidenced in their stance, dress, posture,attitude, voice level, and possessions-is one of the reasons why Americans are readily identifiableanywhere in the world. Their heroes are public figures who frequently appear in the press and ontelevision: outstanding athletes, Hollywood actors, television stars, even business leaders.One of the terms most often used by German and French business people to describe Americanbusiness executives is "self-confident." Overseas Americans feel confident that their ways are thebest ways and often demonstrate messianic zeal about imposing them on other cultures and thenfail to understand why they encounter resistance and resentment. In addition to an overconfidentattitude, Americans suffer from a tendency to dichotomize, to see things as "all black" or "allwhite" and therefore are either " for" or "against" something, often without fully examining thealternatives.In general, they tend to oversimplify and to look for instant solutions, which in part accounts for the American reputation for naiveté in the rest of the world. They are often more interested in theheadlines and the bottom line than in what comes between.Many foreigners comment on the American low-context, legalistic approach to things; everythingis spelled out and put on paper. Two-thirds of all the lawyers in the world are practicing in theUnited States; there is one lawyer for every 355 Americans, and litigation has become a way of life. Consumers are increasingly inclined to sue for damages when they feel they have beenharmed by a product.Within the American system of justice, there has been a preoccupation with protecting the rightsof the individual, especially those accused of a crime. Critics of the system say the victim is toooften forgotten, and American lawmakers and the courts are moving slowly to rectify thisimbalance.