Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: This week America was great and America was good
Posted on 09/14/2001 6:57:10 PM PDT by Pokey78
EVERY couple of weeks or so during his long, turbulent reign, Bill Clinton would dust off his favourite all-purpose quotation, go into teary, lip-biting mode and "reaffirm the timeless wisdom of de Tocqueville's observation so long ago: that America is great because America is good".
Alexis de Tocqueville never said any such thing. He had many perceptive observations on American democracy, but nevertheless he was a Frenchman, not a copywriter at Hallmark greeting cards. So, in this instance, the timeless cheesiness of the sentiment is pure Clintonian. There are many great countries that are not good, and many good countries that aren't great. But, causal link or not, this week America was great and America was good.
The latter is worth saying. Even when supporting America, Europeans vaguely feel its enemies might have a point about the Great Satan - that Americans are vulgar, fat, loud, pampered materialists. Actually, they're the last practising religious nation in the industrial world. They take fewer holidays than any other Western country. They give more time to more voluntary organisations. And, for all the talk about how on Tuesday "the world changed", Americans change very little.
So I have nothing extraordinary to report, only the ordinary and typical, as one small New Hampshire town absorbed this week's horror the way, exactly a century ago, they absorbed the assassination of President McKinley by an anarchist (the international terrorists of their day).
Then as now, we held a special service, the church packed. This week my neighbours drove miles to the nearest hospital to wait four or five hours to give blood. A friend tried to enlist in the army, but "they said I couldn't because of my felony conviction". Across the river in Vermont, the board outside the diner that normally announces Today's Special: Spaghetti and Meatballs $3.95 instead said God Take Care of Our New Angels.
I don't know what these people did to deserve Tuesday morning. Perhaps those suicide bombers who are reported to have driven from Quebec through to Portland, Maine, en route to their rendezvous with destiny could have enlightened me: they must presumably have looked out of the window occasionally.
Most of my neighbours fly the Stars and Stripes year-round, but a sharp division on flag etiquette emerged: some felt it should be lowered to half-staff (as they say here), others that it should fly high and proud, as a sign of defiance and to live up to the spirit of Francis Scott Key who, on the last occasion the eastern seaboard came under heavy bombardment, in 1814, wrote: O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ O'er the land of the free? It waves in my corner of New Hampshire: this is a time for flying flags, not yellow ribbons.
Our volunteer firefighters are hoping to be called to New York, to relieve the city's beleaguered, exhausted and perhaps decimated force. I inquired a month or so back about volunteering as a fireman with my department, but was told that, because of my beard, I wouldn't be allowed near the flames with the hose, but would be stuck at the back lugging in the heavy equipment.
This didn't seem terribly fair. But, as the deputy chief pointed out to me this week, it would have meant that I'd have had a sporting chance of surviving on Tuesday and not been among the 300 or more New York firefighters, including the chief and his deputy, killed when the towers collapsed. This has been the week when rural America discovered that even New York City can live up to the same civic virtues that de Tocqueville first hymned in small-town New England.
I don't want to sentimentalise my neighbours: there are pantywaist liberal flatlanders and gun-nut stump-toothed mountain men and they don't always like each other. But being willing to live with people you don't like is one of the hallmarks of a democracy. And America is generous enough to be able to live even with John Lahr, the theatre critic of the New Yorker, who this week wrote, "An acid thought keeps plaguing me. Isn't it odd that on the day - the day - that the Democrats launched their most blistering attack on 'the absolute lunacy' of Bush's unproven missile-defence system, his 'theological' belief in 'rogue nations', that the rogue nation should suddenly become such a terrifying reality. The fact that I could even think such a thought says more to me about the bankruptcy and moral exhaustion of our leaders even in the face of a disaster. In fear, the nation, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent."
No, John. It says more about the bankruptcy and moral exhaustion of you: thousands of his fellow citizens die in a spectacular act of war and one of New York's most glittering cultural arbiters idly wonders - in public - if Bush staged it to distract attention from criticism by Democrats.
It takes a very clever man to say something so staggeringly stupid. Which is the authentic spirit of America? Those New York firemen pounding up the stairs of a burning skyscraper? The passengers on that fourth plane, United Airlines flight 93, who overpowered their captors and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania rather than be part of a flying bomb? Or the dead, fetid heart of John Lahr?
Thanks for posting!
Most of our ancestors got here on ships, fleeing the older nations for economic or religious reasons. They started all over, in a land that was unfamiliar. Some families started over more than once, as they moved west. They survived the Civil War, Two World Wars, the Depression, and the Cold War.
We are a nation of pioneers, builders, explorers, survivors. We are not easily cowed, but that aspect of our character has been hidden.
The American spirit is back, after 8 long years of being told that all we care about is pleasure and money. That was a lie, like so much else of the Clinton presidency. It is as if the nation has awakened from an evil spell. Seeing those New Yorkers with President Bush today confirmed it.
We will prevail.
I have SELDOM read a "Piece" which reflected as clear an understanding of the "American Character" as this!
HERE, painted in BOLD, CLEAR strokes, IS the essential "American Character,"--as clear now, as it was in the time of Emerson!
We--as a culture--have STILL managed to retain our basic character!
We "Don't Fight 'em, We OUTCLASS 'EM!" (& when we find out who hurt our fellow Americans--we exact a savage & massive price for their suffering.)
Why is it the "Anti-American Zealots" NEVER take time to understand our Culture--& WHY we seem to ALWAYS gather strength from the attacks inflicted on us!
The Cultural CRETINS who "engineered" the attack on our fellow Citizens HAVE TO BE ignorant of what they have done; They THOUGHT they "Kicked a Cur"; they awoke an ENRAGED LION!
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