Magazine September 9, 2019, Issue

A Certain Brashness 

Immigrants at a naturalization ceremony in Faneuil Hall, Boston, Mass. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
In the hurly-burly of politics, we usually don’t stop to note our simple, unadorned love of the things that make this country so marvelous. That’s what we’ve asked our contributors to our latest special issue, "What We Love about America," to do.

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.

In This Issue

What We Love About America

U.S.

American Men

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.

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Most Popular

Culture

Why Progressives Wage War on History

Princeton University’s decision to remove the name “Woodrow Wilson” from its School of Public and International Affairs is a big win for progressive activists, and the implications will extend far beyond the campus. It hardly surprises me, in today’s polarizing environment, that my alma mater caved to ... Read More
Culture

Why Progressives Wage War on History

Princeton University’s decision to remove the name “Woodrow Wilson” from its School of Public and International Affairs is a big win for progressive activists, and the implications will extend far beyond the campus. It hardly surprises me, in today’s polarizing environment, that my alma mater caved to ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More

Patriotism Is Becoming ‘White Supremacy’

Never before has a speech extolling America’s virtues and the marvels or the nation’s heroes played to such poor — and completely dishonest — reviews. At Mount Rushmore on Friday night, President Trump gave a speech that was very tough on the woke Left, while largely celebrating America — its ... Read More

Patriotism Is Becoming ‘White Supremacy’

Never before has a speech extolling America’s virtues and the marvels or the nation’s heroes played to such poor — and completely dishonest — reviews. At Mount Rushmore on Friday night, President Trump gave a speech that was very tough on the woke Left, while largely celebrating America — its ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Washington vs. Violent Crime

In New York City, 49 people were shot over the holiday weekend. The death count, so far, is eight. With 101 shooting victims in the last week, shootings are up 300 percent over the same period last year; for the full month of June, they reached a level not seen since 1996. Even before this latest bloodbath, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Washington vs. Violent Crime

In New York City, 49 people were shot over the holiday weekend. The death count, so far, is eight. With 101 shooting victims in the last week, shootings are up 300 percent over the same period last year; for the full month of June, they reached a level not seen since 1996. Even before this latest bloodbath, ... Read More