Kevin Williamson, writing for National Review, says, “you can’t love America without loving Americans—and neither of our political tribes seems capable of being content with a country in which the other exists. If you believed that white supremacy is the uniquely defining feature of American life, as Ta-Nehisi Coates believes, how could you bear to feel patriotism? Yet Coates does admit a qualified pride in his country, occasioned—this part is difficult for me to understand—by a visit to Washington, of all cities:
‘Out there, on the Mall, among the monuments, in this state, it all came at me—the recent readings of American history, my own movements through life—and it congealed into the oddest thing: an intense pride in country. I spend much of this blog discussing race and teasing at the problems of American history. I think that it would be easy to see in that a scornful, pessimistic and cynical view of the country. . . . I’ve found it increasingly harder to do when measuring the country against the breadth of human history. . . .At the end of the 19th century, Utah and Colorado were two of the only places in the entire world where women could vote. The hackneyed notion that “America is a beacon for democracy” is usually deployed in arrogance. But in the time of Abraham Lincoln, it was a demonstrable fact.’Out there, on the Mall, among the monuments, in this state, it all came at me—the recent readings of American history, my own movements through life—and it congealed into the oddest thing: an intense pride in country. I spend much of this blog discussing race and teasing at the problems of American history. I think that it would be easy to see in that a scornful, pessimistic and cynical view of the country. . . . I’ve found it increasingly harder to do when measuring the country against the breadth of human history. . . .I think of my parents born into a socially engineered poverty, and I think of their children enjoying the fruits (social mobility) garnered by the nonviolent, democratic assault on that social engineering. And then I consider that for centuries, over the entire world, if your parents were peasants, you were a peasant, as were your children. I think it is proper to be proud of that change. I would not argue for a pride that insists America has worked out all of its problems, and evidences that work by exporting its institutions via tank and bomber. I would argue for a studied pride, a gratitude, that understands all that was sacrificed, that we could have easily tilted the other way, that the experiment is still, even now, fragile, and remains in constant need of the lost 19th century concept of improvement.” Ta-Nehisi Coates. As my readers are probably aware, I am not a fan of Mr. Coates, who is one of the leading spokesmen for slavery reparations. Yet, it’s good to be able to commend a person who can speak a truth contrary to his own vested interest. Still, I like the details. Thirsty? Slake it here.
“A hot day in a foreign country. You sit at a café. You order something to drink. You get 350 milliliters of liquid — roughly four thirsty sips, if you want to be technical — and if you’re still dry you need to order another 350 milliliters of whatever it was you were drinking, and they will keep track, and you will pay for each 350-milliliter installment. You’ll know it’s 350 milliliters because, often, that number is on the glass itself, etched alongside a line about two-thirds up the side. The line is there to reassure both parties. There is no ice. This is also to reassure both parties. Ice is a comfort and a pleasure, but it’s impossible to charge for, so the café management prefers to omit it. Ice is also a cheap way to get the primary liquid to hit the etched line sooner, and the customer is wise to that scam. What remains is this: a few sips of a lukewarm beverage served in an atmosphere of mutual dislike and suspicion.
“A hot day anywhere in the U.S.A.: You sit at a coffee shop, or a diner, or you walk up to the counter at a fast-food place. You order something to drink. You then enter into an unspoken arrangement with the establishment in which they agree to refill your cup with water, iced tea, Diet Coke — you name it — until your thirst is slaked or your bladder complains. Someone will come by every few minutes and top off your water or iced tea, often by pouring sideways from the pitcher in order to give you plenty of ice. You don’t mind the ice, for two reasons: One, the cup is usually enormous — the size of a typical European bathroom sink — so plenty of room for everything; and two, they will keep refilling it, over and over again. They will refill your cup whether you order anything else or not; they will refill your cup after presenting you with the check; and they will refill your cup in the momentary interval between your paying the check and your walking out the door. If you make the same request at a McDonald’s, the transaction takes on a Buddhist simplicity: They hand you a cup, point you to the drink machine, and say, essentially, ‘Have at it.’ While it is true that America in 2019 often seems like a toxic stew of anger and mistrust, that is the case mostly in virtual realms — online or onscreen. In the real-life dimensions of diners and fast-food places and hunger and thirst, America is a spectacularly generous place. Americans mostly pour from the side of the pitcher, to give you more of what you really want.” Rob Long.
“I spent the afternoon after my citizenship ceremony in a dive bar in Florida. It was the perfectly American way to top off a perfectly American day. The dive bar is to the United States what the pub is to England; an unassuming and uncomplicated coat stand on which the country’s cultural touchstones can be hung and enjoyed. To look at the wall in any good dive bar is to find the detritus of a happy nation: discarded license plates and road signs of a still-yearned-for era; faded baseball cards of sentimental import to the owner; advertisements for gasoline and automobiles and soft drinks and fast food; war or police memorabilia the regulars’ fathers would have recognized; political paraphernalia from long-dead candidates of varied repute; invitations to concerts and meetings both local and remote. America’s dive bars represent living scrapbooks for a country that never was and always will be.
“The older word for dive bar was “saloon,” and while the entertainment on offer has changed a little—the detuned piano in the corner has become a slightly subpar speaker system, and the bar fights have (mostly) been replaced by NASCAR, boxing, and football—the basic idea has not. Which is to say that a well-run dive bar serves as a self-conscious rejection of the Fun Police and their ever-expanding strictures. My local bar sells beers for two dollars; has secured a special dispensation to allow smoking; plays its music marginally too loud to permit easy conversation; boasts a set of floors and walls that would prompt any self-respecting blacklight operator to quit in disgust; and has a sufficient inventory of liquor to keep Oliver Reed happy for a month. Hanging above the bar is an impressive array of grenades, bayonets, and vintage firearms that may or may not have been decommissioned. What more could a boy want? The rules that do exist are enforced voluntarily, as a matter of tradition. The beer on offer is extremely cold and bad to middling in quality, and should not be discussed in any detail; the wine comes in just two colors — red and white; and the “cocktail menu” can be assumed to contain only those that one could reasonably expect to get on an airplane. Trash talk about sports, politics, and much else besides is allowed—even encouraged—but at no point are the participants permitted to leave the realm of mockery and to become genuinely upset with one another. The pool table and the arcade games are strictly first-come-first-serve, but on the understanding that the very moment their custodians wonder whether they stayed a little too long, they hand them over without being asked. Any music that would seem out of mood in a 1976 Ford Mustang is not to be played, except as an ironic joke. Thus can one spend a contented hour, or two—or five—blessedly unaware of what is happening outside the walls, unencumbered by the latest fads, and free from being asked to make any more complicated decision than “Another round, bud? The same?'” Charles Cooke.
Another round of America, gratitude for our privilege.