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Sonenshine public diplomacy and the American dream narrative

How American narratives are shaped by the common core values United States leaders discuss overseas and reinforced by what the rest of American society does. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US Dept. of State, Tara Sonenshine in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with Tara Sun and shine former Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs of the u.s. Department of State so you talk about the American narrative and when I think of the American narrative I think of the American dream that anybody can come to America and rise up and reach their dreams whether their social dreams economic dreams whatever whatever they may be and the people all over the world have come here and done that to what extent does the government shape that that narrative that dream has that just arisen and happened around in the government what is the relationship between the government and a narrative like the American dream I think there's a common set of values that animate American policy and American foreign policy changes from administration to administration but there are certain bedrock values that I think you hear every president emanating from the United States talk about particularly to overseas audiences we do believe in individual liberty we do believe in certain basic freedoms freedom of speech freedom of press freedom of religion and now we've talked about where those freedoms of religion how important it was to persuade the Europeans that this was the way to go in an era where the church controlled so much of religions so we do have certain values that are part of our storyline that every individual has the god-given right and potential to seek out his or her dream we do believe in individual entrepreneurship we do believe in certain basic democracies and democratic principles and so I think our storyline overseas is reinforced then by what the rest of society does by what Silicon Valley does or by what films emanate from Hollywood or by what art comes from here so I do think there's a shame it's storytelling that we make public diplomacy very complicated when in effect it's really national storytelling and in there will be your principles your values your national secure your economic Liberty your social fabric your democratic principles your belief in the power of Education so I think those can be government to people and then reinforced by society writ large again is a way that you are influencing explaining defining engaging with others in the world in which we live there are many players in this drama many actors on stage in the old days perhaps the government actor was the big one and the citizens were recipients of government information in this new age we have many players outside the government they might be nongovernmental organizations foundations charities all kinds of institutions even universities who are also in the storytelling message delivery we also have a private sector companies that are telling their story a company wants to sell products overseas they need a certain atmosphere so we've begun to look at how can the formal US government interact with the non-governmental organizations and the private sector and the Internet companies and here it gets tricky because our agendas might be slightly different that big common American dream might be the macrovision we all subscribe to a world less hostile less divided is a world with more commerce a world less hostile more tolerant is a world in which assistance and aid and all the things that you want as a non-governmental organization good health and security and prosperity we sort of all agree on the big big thing but our audiences might be very different I might as a company need to sell sneakers in Africa and the non-governmental organization wants to vaccinate in Africa and our government wants to make sure there isn't terrorism in Africa that Boko Haram doesn't take over so we may be coming at this from different vantage points for the niche audience but what we hope emerges out of all of this is America wants to do its business in the world