Our bigness is also beautiful.

National Review just published their “Things We Love About America” issue. I wish it was Independence Day. What essays, only a bitter hypocrite who enjoys the privilege of living here but knows not gratitude for their unmerited blessings could hate these essays. Why not fall in love with our country again? Here is a sample.

“My first memory comes from a road trip. I can still see it now, almost 38 years later: a brilliant red starfish, fat and thrilling to a child’s eye, splayed in a tidepool on a California beach. My family never flew: Whether the destination was California, Arizona, Florida, or Maine, we drove all the way from Michigan. By the time I took my first airplane flight — I was a high-school senior — I had crossed almost every state border in the lower 48, wheels hugging tight to the road. Road trips aren’t all glitz and glamour. I’ve slept in dicey roadside motels. I’ve thrown up in Yellowstone. I’ve gotten suckered into backseat “strength competitions” with my older brother. I’ve visited the world’s largest truck stop — Iowa 80, that vast heartland “trucker’s Disneyland” — more times than I’d like to admit. But I would argue that jumping into a car and tasting the sweet freedom of rolling wherever you want, whenever you want — all while watching this massive, amazing country scroll by — is about as American as it gets.” Heather Wilhelm.

“Calvin Coolidge didn’t quite say that “the business of America is business,” but he could have said the “bigness of America is bigness.” First of all, we’re literally huge—third-largest by area alone, but No. 1 in geographic diversity and cool stuff.  The best junk they’ve got in Canada and Russia, we’ve got too. But those guys don’t have Hawaii or the American southland (and none of this takes into account that the American-flagged moon is ours, thanks to the International Law of Finders, Keepers and the giant cojones it took to colonize the thing in the first place). America is also large of spirit. Foreigners know this and will often tell you this. Abroad, Americans stand out so much, they almost glow. What Texans and Californians are to other Americans, Americans are to much of the world. Our flintiest New Englanders are like cruise directors compared with many Eastern Europeans. We’re a deeply charitable people — far more charitable than any European country, no matter how you measure it.” Jonah Goldberg.

“But as I’ve aged, I’ve come to think that landscape is less an emblem of America than are its admirable and unsung people: at risk of parodying Donald Rumsfeld, the unknown unknowns rather than the known knowns. They more than anything, more than even the genius of its principles and the courage of its founding, are the source of my continuing love of country despite its troubles and failings. As a writer, who by virtue of the profession could not settle into any others, I’ve had a hundred jobs and met a thousand people who, like most, will leave little to no trace in history, and yet, on the scales of virtue, far outshine most of those who, for a time, are remembered. After my windshield was shattered in a Princeton hailstorm, I was led to a shop in a less august town, where, with the coordination of surgeons, young men my age replaced the curving glass. Most of them had just returned from Vietnam and were floating on air, savoring every move in what they did, every note of the music coming over the radio, every breath of air at home at last. Their happiness as they worked was a better expression of America than any rhetoric or essay. I could go on about so many whom I have known: fighter pilots, farmers, cabinet makers, forest rangers, even accountants (the IRS has a very long list), or my friend, a tough cop, who, upon receiving an award for valiantly but unsuccessfully trying to save a baby’s life, broke down and wept on stage until he was taken into the arms of his very short female commanding officer. In the large and bustling audience, everything came to a dead stop, in dead silence, and we were all one. These and the millions like them are the hope and sinew of America, the inheritors and guardians of its principles, good people present in all walks of life, and deeply worthy of our love.” Mark Helprin.

“Immigrants to America never brought with them the idea that they were still European subjects. Nor were our small farmers peasants or serfs. Instead, the United States was the rare consensual government in history in which the middle class, in numbers and influence, defined the society and culture at large. Every man was to be a king, and so his home really was his castle. You can see the modern result of such middle-class chauvinism manifested on the freeway in the huge Winnebago with chairs, bikes, and gadgets tacked onto its sides barreling to a national park — or by listening to the well-informed callers on talk radio who prove to be better informed than Ivy League students. Elites hate jet skis, snowmobiles, and recreational vehicles in part because they reflect that so many have the wherewithal to have fun without the approval or sanction of their supposed betters. The twin of such populist chauvinism has always been a unique informality lacking in most nations abroad. Americans are practical, commonsensical, and self-reliant. The middling classes usually avoid the European gullibility of periodically embracing all-encompassing doctrines and ideologies. They certainly never warmed to the patrón or the manor. The middle classes have found would-be Hitlers, Mussolinis, or Stalins more creepy than spellbinding. So dominant is this ethos of unpretentiousness that even the blueblood and magnate often embrace the fashion, accent, and bearing of the middle class. The aristocratic Ivy Leaguer William F. Buckley famously announced, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” Buckley did not mean just that he resented the overweening nonsense of the eastern liberal intelligentsia. He also perhaps was conceding that men of his own class would gladly admit that the common sense and bearings of the “average folks” had kept the country sane and balanced.” Victor Davis Hanson.

“Envy is a sour, seething desire for someone else’s possessions, whether things, abilities, spouses, or good luck. It’s a universal disease, one of the seven deadly sins, but in my opinion it’s much less likely to afflict Americans. This is a great American virtue. We take this for granted, but we’re blessed that envy isn’t part and parcel of our civic culture. When I was in Dijon in France a few weeks ago, a French friend and I chatted about how uneasy, how sullen and impotent, the French seem now. He said, ‘The French are taught to be unhappy and to blame the state and the rich.’ Blame is envy’s bad-seed baby. Envy is powerful and corrosive. It eats the soul. It reveals a void that comes from a want of freedom and autonomy. You covet what you don’t have and assume you can’t get. Envy and blame are states of being but also states of mind. When people don’t feel free and independent, envy and blame rear their ugly heads and toss their curls. American art has so much landscape and seascape for the obvious reason that they’re ubiquitous subjects, but they’re also open-ended. They evoke freedom and possibility, not limits. Our identity as citizens, as Americans, draws from notions of freedom the way a tree draws water. I think that’s why envy and blame haven’t paralyzed us. Sure, as in any complicated organism, every emotion or trait finds an outlet. We’re a collection of people, and everyone is unique. Americans, though, as a rule don’t envy what others have. We don’t hate the rich. We don’t want to punish them. Americans are far less inclined to play blame games. Puzzling our way out of a bad situation is an instinct well supplied to Americans but less elsewhere. We’ve never been a culture of constraint and limits, which are dead ends. We’re a culture of opportunity. In most of the world, things are fixed, which can mean rigged as well as unalterably set.” Brian Allen.

“It’s fashionable to run men of this country down — and, yeah, some deserve it. But even northern Europe is hardly a manhood paradise by comparison. A German professor boasted to me of his open-mindedness: He let his wife have the car one day a week, so that she could do the shopping. Tyrannical in-laws; spoiled only children; porn, mistresses, and prostitutes as erotic competitors; ruthless diet and fashion industries; and a thousand rigid traditions around domesticity steal European women’s lives. European men are okay with this. American men — with few exceptions — treat you like a human being, in a free, natural way, because they’ve done it from the nation’s youth. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that a young American woman could make a long trip alone in perfect security — woe to anyone who touched her. That expectation endangered me in the developing world; men’s attitudes there forced me to fold in and withdraw. I was relieved to hilarity to settle in the U.S. again, where I could reclaim my whole self, public and private, for people I like and things that interest me. During a snowstorm one year, two young men at a Pennsylvania bus station helped me cross the icy parking lot with my luggage and then stood near me under the awning, talking to each other about frontier history. I realized I didn’t have to worry how I seemed to them, young or old, attractive or unattractive, attached or unattached, well-off or poor. They had no notion of a right to either hunt me or drive me away, as a useful or useless feral creature. I shared their species.Out at the road, a shuttle let out a blind passenger. He began to shuffle across the lot; we stared. Then a middle-aged man next to us set off wordlessly to help. The two younger ones were crushed: They hadn’t displayed an instant, full sense of their duty. “I feel like a tool bag,” one muttered. No, my friend, you’re not a tool bag. You’re one of the greats.” Sarah Ruden.

“Ancestry.com tells me my forebears were 100 percent from the British Isles. But I’m American by birth, and where I live, in Greensboro, N.C., we seem to have a pretty good mix of African, European, Latino, and Asian origins. When I travel to places where only one race or ethnic origin is represented, I get a sense that someone is missing. When I come home to America, nobody is missing. We have citizens whose ancestors came from everywhere. Whether those ancestors came willingly or not, legally or not, were well treated upon arrival or not, makes no difference: Their children and descendants are American now. And if any group of them had not come, we would be a different people, a poorer people. Americans are from everywhere. We include examples of everybody. Wherever you are in the world, you have kinfolk, however distantly related, in America.” Orson Scott Card.

“Some years ago, a man at Davos was singing the praises of America. He was from East Asia—I can’t remember exactly where. One thing he brought up was the matter of group photos. “In my part of the world,” he said, “everyone knows where to stand. There is a hierarchy. Everyone knows his place. In America, no one knows where to stand. They just fall in, and somebody takes the picture.” I thought this was a very interesting observation about our country — one only a foreigner could make. You recall what Aunt Eller says in Oklahoma!: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!” At naturalization ceremonies, the presiding officer—could be a judge, even a Supreme Court justice; sometimes it’s the president of the United States — often says, “You are now just as American as descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims.” (Sometimes they are more so, in outlook and appreciation; sometimes they aren’t.) A few months ago, I landed at JFK Airport after a trip abroad. As I was making for a cab line, I saw an airport official giving a vendor a hard time. The vendor was clearly an immigrant from Africa. He said, in his accented English, “I know my rights!” Made me grin. Once, I was sitting with a group of journalists, questioning the prime minister of Egypt. The Middle Eastern journalists were addressing him as “your excellency.” This struck my ear as odd, especially considering that Egypt was then keen to be seen as a democratic country. Happy to play the brash Yank, I said to the prime minister, “How did someone in your position come to be called ‘your excellency’?” The people around me bristled, audibly. But the prime minister was a good sport, saying with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, 50 years ago it was ‘pasha.’” After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Angela Merkel visited America for the first time. She was in her mid 30s, about to begin a political career. In San Diego, a clerk in a store said to her, “How are you?” This startled the visitor from Germany (East Germany, actually). She found herself saying, “Great!” I like being an American abroad — you can get away with a lot. In Austria, a pedestrian waits at the intersection if the sign says “Don’t walk.” It doesn’t matter if it’s two in the morning, with no car for miles. He waits. My American feet won’t do it. I figure I will be excused, as the American who doesn’t know better. In Salzburg, where I do some annual work, the concert halls are very, very hot. Most people are dressed to the nines. I always take off my jacket. Then something happens. The men around me look at their wives as if to say, “Well, if he’s doing it . . .” The wives will shrug, and the men will remove their jackets, in grateful relief. That’s American leadership, baby.” Jay Nordlinger.

Well, you get the idea. Why not MAGA? That’s not Trump, it’s us, baby!

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

One thought on “Our bigness is also beautiful.”

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