Edward Snowden has many opponents and detractors. Many are thoughtful, but just as many (with some crossover) are name-callers and the easiest barb to throw at Snowden is that he’s “un-American” or “anti-American.” Business Insider called him both a hero but also “vindictive, un-American, and downright naïve.” A spokesperson for the Russian government, Dmitry Peskov, said that he could stay in Russia, provided “that he give up any intention to engage in any form of anti-American activities, activities that are harmful to the United States."
Those are the more benign comments, poke around the right-wing blogs and things get ugly fast.
Snowden is not un-American. He is, in fact, too American for most of us. We can’t handle how American he is. Here are five reasons that Edward Snowden is more American than America.
1. He’s a rebel.
American history in four words: no rebels, no America. Sure, there would be people living on this land (sigh), but they wouldn’t be called Americans. America is a product of a bunch of people saying screw my government, I’m going to do what’s right.
2. He sacrificed himself for the good of the group.
You, dear reader, are reading a random article on the internet. That means the odds are good that your life is currently better than Edward Snowden’s. No, you probably aren’t internationally famous, but did your country revoke your passport? I’m guessing not. Are you currently stuck in Russia, trying to find a country who will grant you asylum with the right balance of U.S. defiance and lack of repression? Again, unlikely. Edward Snowden may eventually have a comfortable life (if he can avoid the U.S. prison system), but that’s no guarantee, and it can’t be all that comfortable now.
3. He’s a David taking on a Goliath.
Snowden’s top advocate in finding him a country that will grant him asylum is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The U.S.’s top guy seeking to isolate Snowden is Vice President Joe Biden (who recently called Ecuador’s President Correa and asked him to not grant asylum to Snowden). Guess which one has more power and international clout. Nope, it’s Biden. Snowden isn’t just running away from a country, he’s running away from a superpower that can put economic pressure on any country in the world with a subtle shift of its weight. That’s why most countries that Snowden has asked for asylum have replied with “does not compute, you must get here first and then ask.” Snowden in taking on an adversary much larger than himself, is many American legends, like Rocky Balboa, Erin Brockovich and Bruce Wayne. (He’s also Tom Hanks from that airport movie, but that’s tangential to the point here, because the whole point of that movie was that Tom Hanks was not American.)
4. Snowden is treating America like an American more than America is treating Snowden like an American.
In the U.S. we have a simple way to deal with the accused. At least it’s simple in theory: we assume you are innocent, we lay out all the evidence, have people argue both sides, and let impartial observers decide who is right. That’s not to say that Snowden presumes the innocence of America, but his intention is more to expose than to harm. As for America’s response, here is how Snowden described it in the statement he released via WikiLeaks:
“The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.”
Granted, one could argue that there are special circumstances here, but those circumstances pushed Snowden to follow his convictions and America to do what was necessary to achieve its goals. For Harry Potter fans: Snowden is a Gryffindor, America is a Slytherin.
5. Snowden gets the privacy-security balance that America has chosen for itself
You know how to have really good homeland security? Be a dictator and control everything. Then again, give people 100% privacy and you’ll never catch a terrorist. Privacy and security aren’t perfectly mutually opposing, but they are at least somewhat. Governments tend to be more security-focused, but once they are collecting information, it’s really hard to control what that info gets used for. To safeguard against abuses of intel, Americans tend to prefer that you stay out of their business unless you have a really good reason to intrude. But like a kid in a homeland security candy store, American governments tend to collect whatever information they can get away with, because the more info they have, the easier it is to stop attacks, and either they trust themselves to not do anything bad with it, or they trust you not to find out. It’s an understandable urge, but it’s not the path we have chosen. Americans know there are risks. We want our privacy anyway. Edward Snowden gets that. Judging by their actions, the Obama Administration does not.