Europe and American Politics
It is one of the lines along which Americans divide. Many see western European societies as more civilized, humane, intelligent than ours. Others see them as conservative, sclerotic, boring—a warning of what we could, and shouldn't, become. Roughly speaking, it is the same line that divides us politically. I would guess that most in the first group voted for the Democratic candidate in the last few election and a majority in the second for the Republican. As Charles Murray wrote somewhere, we now know what Barack Obama is. He's a Swede.
It would be interesting to look at the same division from the other side. It is surely true now, as it has been true for a very long time, that many Europeans look on America as only half civilized, with much to learn from older and wiser cultures. It is surely also true that many see it as where things are happening. I remember a conversation with some English students some forty years ago; one, I believe a dental student, commented that all the new stuff in his field was coming out of America.
Reading Dick Francis, a very popular English novelist, it is pretty clear that he and his protagonists are in the second category, that they see America as almost literally a breath of fresh air. For a more ambiguous view, consider a book by Scottish science fiction novelist Ken MacLeod, set in the mid-21st century. His protagonist sees America as an immature, irresponsible, wasteful culture, insufficiently concerned with energy conservation and the like. But when, fleeing political difficulties at home, he escapes to America, he says that it feels as though he has spent his life living under a low roof and it has suddenly been lifted.