Spying scandals, the systematic erosion of privacy. A corporate sector that makes mincemeat of American democracy. To understand why Europe's normally pro-American elites are so disillusioned now, it is important to look at the days of their youth a few decades back - specifically the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Those years, when many people who are now Europe's leaders -- whether a prime minister, foreign minister, or what have you -- were heady times.
On the tail end of the Vietnam fiasco, Marxists -- then a very prominent force in numbers all over Europe, had a ready-made opportunity. Whatever their ideology said about the United States as the leading capitalist power seemed to be born out in practice -- or so they liked to cast it.
U.S. troops had been marauding around the world. U.S. intelligence officers engaged in toppling regimes in various places. And amidst all that saber rattling, U.S. multinational companies were quietly, but relentlessly going about their business expanding their market shares to conquer the globe.
In short, The United States, the self-proclaimed land of liberty and justice, had little if any regard for the concerns of others.
Land of liberty, really?
To Marxists, it was a clear-cut case of U.S. imperialism. The United States was forcing capitalism in its rawest form down the throat of non-Americans, if need be through military means.
Keen to topple the political balance on the continent and still wet-eyed from the glory days of the late-1960s, leftist student organizers were keen to press home the image of a United States caring about nothing on earth but its self-advancement and material interests.
In the interest of advancing its exploitative agenda -- so the middle class students were told by Marxist agitators -- U.S. companies were keen on becoming ever bigger.
In the end, a few of them -- a reigning oligopoly -- would have the tools at their disposal to rule the entire world -- and use them for the commercial advantage of the super-rich. In effect, it was argued, the United States as the über-capitalist paragon was ruled by a class of rich people who had no interest in social equity.
The anti-American Marxist clap trap
All that mattered to them was to amass more material goods and financial assets. On that road toward eternal self-enrichment, they would go to any length -- including plundering the environment, impoverishing people, committing financial fraud and other crimes.
Furthermore, in order to make their rule sustainable, they would appease the "masses" by feeding them a steady diet of religion and cheap consumer goods.
The purpose behind that strategy was to keep the lower classes in check -- and in the naïve belief that the economic regime would be good for them. Along those lines, the Marxist claptrap went on and on.
Standing up for America then
Fortunately for the United States, and in fact the sustainability of capitalism itself, many European students were leery of falling for this highly dogmatic way of interpreting what was going on in the world.
True, many students from Europe's middle classes realized the United States had made mistakes. Vietnam was an unnecessary folly born out of arrogance, even hubris.
But that alone was no reason to condemn the United States as a whole -- or, even less so, the entire capitalist system.
What did matter, in contrast, was that the United States and its military were the one force destined to keep the Soviets in check. That security -- as well as the economic opportunities provided by the Americans -- was a hands-on benefit that many Europeans could relate to.
And the Marxist activists -- their extraordinary rhetorical skills and general sense of charming propaganda notwithstanding -- had to confront an insurmountable problem.
After the experience with the Nazis in much of Europe, few people had any desire to fall for collectivist nirvanas, whether of the Communist or National Socialist extraction. What people yearned for was to have some space for self-advancement.
They were eager to work hard, earn good money -- and feel good about their future. In short, they very much wanted to have their own slice of the American Dream.
As a result, quite a few of those bourgeois students decided to stand up against all that Marxist propaganda. They ran for seats in the student parliaments, honed their rhetorical skills in weekend seminars to confront Marxist student leaders in public debates and so on.
The road to belated disillusionment
Fast-forward three decades. After a little bit of hesitation, even surprise, on their part, these activists-turned-establishmentarians all express one thought that almost shocks them.
Looking back to those days when the Marxists were so keen on maligning the United States in idiotic ways, had these people perhaps been off target by that much?
Perhaps they had gotten the decades mixed up. Or perhaps it was a case of the United States regressing in a manner that modern Europeans have a hard time comprehending.
When will it get better?
First, there was George W. Bush, a U.S. president, who played loose with the facts. Somebody who made amazing claims, but then was unable to back them up. Somebody who had always preached responsibility, but then chose to act in the most irresponsible manner.
Then came the much more mild-mannered Barack Obama -- who ended up more or less captured by the same demons and practices that had made Bush II so unpalatable. That turn of events is precisely what concerns -- even tortures -- quite a few members of Europe's pro-American elites.
They are lawyers, bankers, doctors, professors and journalists. They wish it weren't so. But events are drastic enough that, in hindsight, they now wonder whether they had been wrong in rejecting the analysis of U.S. motives on the world stage that had been advanced by all those Marxist agitators.
Mind you, the analysis -- not the prescriptions about turning toward communism. But that in itself is dark enough a thought that many of Europe's professional elites are simply shocked by it.