Friday, July 01, 2011

100 Things That I Love About This Country

People on the right seem to think that they own the country, the flag, the Constitution, and patriotism. I beg to differ. I always want the country to grow, to become more diverse and tolerant, more creative and more compassionate, but I felt compelled this July 4th to express gratitude for the random, chaotic, over-the-top, irrational and often brash joys of living here. This country is better because of the left and we need to reclaim our role in its history. Here are the best things about America, as I see it:

1. The First Amendment.
2. The Great Truth Tellers: Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Carlin.
3. The view of the New York City skyline at night from the Staten Island Ferry.
4. Ethiopian food in the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston.
5. Mt. Ranier in Washington state.
6. Seeing the Lincoln Memorial for the first time at the Mall in Washington, D.C.
7. George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."
8. Micro-brewed beer in Oregon.
9. New Orleans cuisine.
10. Habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, the right of trial by jury, and the right of appeal.
11. Louis Armstrong.
12. The Carnegie Deli in Manhattan.
13. Zion National Park in Utah.
14. "The Grapes of Wrath."
15. The stately, dignified drama of The World Series and the hyperbolic, artificial giddiness of the Super Bowl.
16. Five-way chili in Cincinnati.
17. Volunteer fire departments.
18. Billie Holiday.
19. Bobby Kennedy's speeches when he ran for president in 1968.
20. That millions of Protestants had to make way for millions of Catholics who had to make way for millions of Jews who now have to make way for millions of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. Who's next? Please bring your art and your food.
21. The horizon in the early evening in Kansas.
22. Sedona, Arizona.
23. Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
24. Finding an open restaurant on Christmas Eve in North Beach in San Francisco.
25. Downtown Chicago along the river.
26. Tex-Mex.
27. Bruce Springsteen.
28. All the great, heroic crusades for American betterment: abolitionism, women's suffrage, the various civil rights movements, the crusades against needless wars, etc.
29. "The Great Gatsby."
30. The fabulous weirdness that is Austin, Texas.
31. Classic TV shows like "The Twilight Zone."
32. Frank Capra movies.
33. The Freedom Trail in Boston
34. Coffee shops in Seattle.
35. The Cafe du Monde in New Orleans
36. The strange beauty of Death Valley
37. The street murals of Los Angeles
38. Martin Scorsese films.
39. Bob Dylan.
40. New Year's Eve on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.
41. The Beatniks.
42. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans and that tiny white church Ansel Adams photographed in Bodega Bay in Northern California that I visited one Christmas.
43. Caribbean food in Miami.
44. That Flatt and Scruggs and Steve Martin could make even banjos sound cool.
45. Woody Allen films through "Manhattan."
46. The Transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
47. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words and deeds.
48. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
49. That I have taught students from Russia, the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Iran, India, Nepal, and Thailand at my small community college in Plano, Texas.
50. All the music forms Americans have created: spirituals, ragtime, the blues, jazz, country and western, rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, and hip-hop. What a quiet, lyrically poorer and booty-shaking deprived planet this would be without all that great music, so much of it straight from the heart.
51. The much maligned United Nations. It, like the League of Nations, was an American idea and the UN has brought the world poverty relief, mediation between warring nations, famine aid, inoculations for needlessly fatal diseases to the poorest places on earth, and so on. Right-wingers who malign the UN ought to re-examine the New Testament they tout so much and re-assess their self-absorbed values.
52. The wonderful works of the Harlem Renaissance.
53. Public radio. What a great innovation. Thoughtful commentary and news not completely over-determined by the marketplace.
54. Stephen Sondheim musicals.
55. Hebrew National hot dogs.
56. Bagels in Manhattan.
57. My sports idols: Johnny Unitas, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Karem Abdul Jabbar and Muhammad Ali.
58. The ducks at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.
59. Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, creators of the "Superman" comic book, and all small, physically unimposing Americans who want super powers to rid the world of evil.
60. Les Paul, master of the guitar.
61. The plays of Tennessee Williams.
62. The novel "To Kill A Mockingbird" and the play "Inherit the Wind." They more than stand up to anything produced by the pretentious, self-righteous snobs in Europe.
63. Einstein's life in America after he was chased out of Germany
by the Nazis.
64. Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial after she was kicked out of the DAR Hall for being black.
65. The Lombardi Packers.
66. The Joshua Tree National Monument in Southern California.
67. Downtown Fort Worth at night.
68. Evergreen, Colorado.
69. That John Lennon wanted to create a family in New York City and that American audiences embraced Sigmund Freud.
70. Kalachandij's Restaurant and Hindu Temple in Dallas.
71. Brilliantly satirical protest groups like Ladies Against Women and The Church of the Subgenius.
72. Frank Zappa's guitar solo "Watermelon in Easter Hay."
73. FDR's four freedoms: Freedom of speech and expression; Freedom of religion; Freedom from want; Freedom from fear.
74. The sounds of the Pacific waves crashing on the West Coast.
75, Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman, the martyrs of 1964's "Freedom Summer" in Mississippi.
76. The recent worker rebellions in Ohio and Wisconsin.
77. The fact that there have been people like Dr. George Tiller in Kansas and clinic workers like Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols in Massachussetts who risked and lost their lives fighting for women's health.
78. That even Fox viewers began to turn off Glenn Beck.
79. Community gardens.
80. Johnny Cash.
81. That Sarah Palin and her family have bombed as reality TV stars, that Michele Bachmann couldn't even make it to the New Hampshire primary as a presidential candidate, and that even Republicans ultimately found Newt Gingrich repulsive.
82.  Marriage equality is spreading across the land and that a majority of Americans now favor it.
83. Ann Coulter's book sales have declined with each hateful, empty-headed screed.
84.  Do-it-yourself groups like the Diggers in 1960s San Francisco.
85. The late San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen.
86. The life of Hunter S. Thompson.
87. Susan Sarandon - what a stately, beautiful, principled, smart woman.
88.  Rachel Maddow is a TV star.
89.  Cajun food.
90.  My son, who is of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant heritage, takes classes in Tae Kwon Do, a martial arts discipline invented in Buddhist South Korea, in a dojo run by a Muslim man from Jordan.
91. Steve Earle.
92.  Michael Moore who, regardless of his flaws, makes provocative movies that matter.
93.  The song, "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?"
94.  The Grimké sisters.
95.  The Highlander School.
96.  Union halls.
97. Woody Guthrie.
98.  The words of Thomas Jefferson enshrined at his D.C. Memorial, even if his deeds were often a sharp contrast.
99.  Everything about the Occupy Wall Street movement.
100.  Blood banks: what a beautiful way to say you love your country and that you are part of your community.

Michael Phillips is the author or co-author of the following books:

“White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001” (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006). 

“The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics.” Co-Written with Patrick Cox. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).

Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., “Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations” (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011).

Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., “The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience” (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011).

Richardson Dilworth, ed. “Cities in American Political History”  (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011).

He will also be co-author of the forthcoming “The Radical Origins of the Texas Right” (edited by David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison) due to be published in 2012 by Texas A&M University Press; and The American Challenge: A New History of the United States to be Volumes I and II published the same year by Abigail Press.

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of black higher education in Texas, “’God Carved in Night’: African American Culture, Political Activism And the Rise And Fall of Black Colleges in Texas. ”

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