My initial thought that brought this on was that while both Bugs and Mickey are revered as icons in American culture, Bugs seems to fit us better. Specifically, he’s got a mischievous sense, which Mickey lacks, which seems to be a prime character trait of most Americans. So he’s more representative of the American mindset, right? Well, not so fast.
Bugs fits our mindset extremely well because he’s a mischievous libertarian. He wants to be left alone to his own pursuits. This is his primary goal, and he doesn’t respond well to people who come to hurt him or to help him against his will. All of that is very American. You see this time and again in our politics and our films -- the good guys just want to go about their lives, but they will fight back hard if you try to interfere in their lives.
But Bugs is more too. He’s curious and doesn’t mind butting into the business of others when they cross his path. And when he finds that they are bullies of one sort another, he happily takes them down a notch – he never picks on anyone weaker than himself. This is very American too. Americans by and large avoid fights, but they will always stand up to bullies and they will always fight for justice. Indeed, this is the basis of our view of ourselves as the underdog.
On the surface, Mickey is different. Mickey is more stable. He’s constantly working to make his life better. He is the quintessential small businessman. That means he represents a different part of the American psyche than Bugs. Whereas Bugs is mischievous, Mickey is responsible. Whereas Bugs is about leisure, Mickey is about work. Nevertheless, he too is a bully killer.
Indeed, when pressed, Mickey will respond with violence. Like Bugs, he never picks the fight and he never picks on anyone weaker than himself, but he will defend himself, his friends, and those being unjustly treated. Again, this fits perfectly with our culture. In fact, there isn’t a hero on film who doesn’t need to check these boxes before he’s allowed to throw a punch or send a bullet flying.
What this suggests is that whether you come from the responsible side of the American tracks or the mischievous side, underneath all Americans have the same views when it comes to when and whom to fight.
And if you look at our history books and our politics, you will see these two characters play out over and over again. We claim we never started a war without being provoked. We've always been the underdog. Our leaders have always been idealists who didn't want to enter politics, but got pulled in when needed, and they all come from humble beginnings or they built businesses. None of this is really true, but we believe it.
Interestingly, the European and Asians I’ve met don’t think like this. They aren’t scrappy fighters. They aren’t underdogs. They don’t want to beat bullies. To the contrary, they tend to see themselves as members of a group and they leave all the big decisions to the group leader, i.e. they are Smurfs. That’s probably why both Bugs and Mickey have continue to represent America wherever they’ve gone rather than being co-opted by the local cultures.
Ultimately, I don't think either represents America better than the other because they each represent different sides of our national personality.