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Happy Fourth of July

The thing, for me, about America the Beautiful, is that bit at the end, the plea for the grace of the Divine. It’s as if the writer, Katharine Lee Bates, overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscape, longs for a comparable beauty of the populace. It’s interesting (to YHB) that the poet chose fraternity as the crown of virtue, rather than (f’r’ex) liberty or equality, but I find the sentiment lovely.

I’ve never quite felt that way, myself, about the landscape. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the desert. I saw the majestic mountains, and they were purple, and the skies were spacious and still are. But the plains weren’t very fruited, other than prickly pears, and as for grain, well, not so much. There’s a sense of America as cornucopia that never got instilled in me—not because of an urban childhood of concrete and steel but because of a suburban childhood of cactus and roadrunners.

Or it is because I’m a city boy at heart. Or because of a late-twentieth-century alienation from The Land that afflicts our society at large. Some reason or other.

The land, though, isn’t a great part of my love for my country. I’m all about Representative Democracy, equality under the law, tyrannaphobia, the Liberal Enlightenment, decent respect to the opinions of mankind, due process, disestablishment, that sort of thing.

And a sort of alloy-ism, a strength through admixture, an emphasis on the sparks that come off the friction between peoples. The pluribus part. You know, at pretty nearly the same historical moment that Ms. Bates was writing America the Beautiful, Israel Zangwill was writing The Melting Pot:

…America is Gd’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of Gd you’ve come to—these are the fires of Gd. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! Gd is making the American.

And I’m not in sympathy with Mr. Zangwill here (although I do, I’m afraid, sympathize with his blindness to the other continents, whilst pointing out yet another example of blah blah blah) and prefer our modern idea of a mosaic to the melting pot of a century ago. But this is closer, certainly, to my idea of the Beautiful America, and it, too, is crowned with brotherhood.

Perhaps brotherhood is what I am looking for, then. Something that can encompass Ms. Bates and Mr. Zangwill, something that has power well beyond its deserts (or its deserts), something deep and inalienable.

Or, perhaps, it’s this: America is the process of looking for that thing that will crown the American Good. Brotherhood, or Peace, or Power, or Liberty, or that Light on the proverbial. The crown isn’t America. The search for the crown is.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


By contrast, while I also believe in the ideals of America, I have found that my strongest and most conscious love for my country came when driving across it. And in National Parks. Driving the length of California also reactivated, in some way, my claim to my native state.

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