Why does Peggy Noonan hate America?

I adore plane travel.

I love the sheer improbability of nine hundred thousand pounds of steel, people and fuel flitting through the air like Nijinsky on a coke binge. I love the fact that there are beautiful women and handsome gay men whose sole function for eight hours is to bring Grammy more champagne. I love not having to elbow incontinent old people in the head in order to watch what I want on TV.

Most of all, I love the fact that I can have a nap and wake up in Amsterdam or Barcelona or Sydney or Rio de Janeiro. I’ve spent most of my life trying to travel to as many foreign places and meet as many foreign people as possible, even if I’ve had to hock my shoes to get there.

One of the other advantages of plane travel is that the enforced down-time waiting in airport terminals gives me a chance to browse around those corners of the internets I usually don’t get to. For example, the other day, while I was at LaGuardia waiting for Gloria’s plane to be refueled, I stumbled across an unusually coherent <a href=”http://peggynoonan.com/”>article by little Peggy Noonan</a>.

I’m not suggesting it is a great article. After all, when Peggy writes, you’re usually just happy if the piece uses recognizable words and the smell of vodka doesn’t filter all the way down through the printing process and transpire off the page. However, I thought her conclusion was interesting, if only because it looks like Peggy has managed to stumble in the gutter and land on her hands and knees next to half a truth:

<blockquote>The whole world is in the Hilton, channel-surfing. The whole world is on the train, in the airport, judging what it sees, and likely, in some serious ways, finding us wanting. And, being human, they may be judging us with a small, extra edge of harshness for judging them and looking down on them. We have work to do at home, on our culture and in our country.</blockquote>

My real problem with Peggy’s conclusion is that the real situation is much worse than she thinks.

The world doesn’t look at America and find it wanting. The world looks at America and worries what the hell it is up to now.

Now before anyone accuses me of being an America-hating Limey immigrant bitch, let me hasten to add that I love this country with all my heart. Any nation that produced bourbon whiskey, blues music, the cheeseburger and George Clooney’s ass can’t be all bad.

Further, many (perhaps even most) Americans are fine, generous, inventive, kind people.

I’m also not suggesting that the rest of the world isn’t messed up as well. One look at the Italian Parliament or the Japanese film industry or the slums of Brazil or anything involving Steve and Bindi Irwin or the Wiggles would suggest that the rest of the world has enough of its own problems to be getting on with.

America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, the refuge of the homeless and the tempest-tost, that more perfect union whose alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.

And yet, most of the time what the outside world sees is a nation of bloodthirsty war-mongers and religious dogmatists who think the way to world peace is more guns and more war, that democracy can be imposed at the end of a Gatling gun, and that drilling for oil, bringing on Armageddon or the fact that the indigenous population wears their handkerchiefs on their heads are legitimate reasons for invasion.

They read their papers and they read about a nation that went to war to throw off the shackles of a hereditary monarchy and then spent the next 200 years replacing it with the most dysfunctional political system this side of Pyongyang, a hereditary argentocracy in which the electoral prospects of a fat multiply-bankrupt television star with a triple combover can be seriously discussed, rather than being relegated to the funny pages.

They wonder at a nation that has the best medical system in the world in which 90% of the population can’t see a doctor without selling either a kidney or their oldest child into slavery – a nation that has the best education system in the world, and yet 72% of the population is so terminally incurious that it doesn’t have a passport and couldn’t find America on a map with a torch and a pointy red arrow marked “You are here”.

They deal with fat tourists from Texas in walk socks and flip-flops who travel overseas merely so they can shout at the locals in English in order to be understood and get directions to the Hard Rock cafe, and thereby avoid being exposed to anything remotely foreign while in a foreign land.

They fear America as a country of cultural imperialists, racists, Jesus freaks and Amway salesmen who want to turn the entire world into a sanitized theme park of sexless talking mice, big-eyed virgins, plastic cheese and expensive time-limited parking.

In the family reunion of nations, America is the crazy aunty with halitosis and a moustache who bails you up in the corner and tells you off because you need to lose weight and stop smoking, while all the while scoffing all the vol-au-vents and bogarting the joint.

America is a great nation. Americans rightly think so. The rest of the world rightly thinks so.

The real problem is that when much of America looks at itself all it sees is a great nation.

The rest of the world looks at America and, however much they may envy or love its wealth and its celebrity and its power, they see a great nation that is often demonstrably, certifiably fucking insane.

Grammy either needs a drink or to stop reading the newspapers. Probably both.

[Image – Unveiling the Statue of Liberty – Edward Moran – from <a href=”http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artwork.php?artworkid=15295″>Artrenewal.org</a>]

[Cross posted at <a href=”http://sarahproudandtall.com/”>Sarah, Proud and Tall</a>.]






35 replies
  1. 1
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    As far as Nooners goes, I blame the morning hangover. If the Irish coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, she might be a little cranky.

    As far as the rest goes, preach it, Grammy!

  2. 2
    gnomedad says:

    Noonan has occasional flashes of insight and eloquence, then goes to light candles at St. Ronnie’s shrine until she feels better.

  3. 3
    The Moar You Know says:

    The rest of the world looks at America Germany and, however much they may envy or love its wealth and its celebrity and its power, they see a great nation that is often demonstrably, certifiably fucking insane.

    ca. 1938

    That ended well for Germany, right?

  4. 4
    Bobby Thomson says:

    OT, but kerners are go, y’all.

    There’s a birf sertifficut on the internets.

  5. 5
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    Nooners won’t stray too far from the path that Saint Ronnie laid down; she’ll be back to her old self as soon as she downs that “hair of the dog” booster.

  6. 6
    celticdragonchick says:

    I love the sheer improbability of nine hundred thousand pounds of steel, people and fuel flitting through the air like Nijinsky on a coke binge.

    Best line of the day.

  7. 7
    JCT says:

    Omnes beat me to it — I think she was a little extra “stung” that morning.

    And I love to travel as well. One of my favorite memories was visiting a cafe in Paris filled with locals reading the paper and bantering (actually ridiculing) George Bush. Was with my teenager at the time and of course we were ID’d as Americans — quite the back and forth ensued as we assured them that we didn’t like him any more than they did. In the end, I think my daughter’s stellar French and her asking them if we should just pretend we were Canadian in the future won the day.

    Actually Sarah — my favorite is getting on a plane, falling asleep and finding myself in the Far East – now that feels like time travel.

  8. 8
    Ahasuerus says:

    Please forgive this threadjacking, but I believe we have entered the Birthergeddon Wingularity. The White House has just released President Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate.

    And Sarah, dear, you are indeed a national treasure. Thank you for entering our little corner of the blogosphere.

  9. 9
    Culture of Truth says:

    We elected a has-been actor President. The world lost its awe a long time ago.

  10. 10
    Culture of Truth says:

    With the long-form release I believe the WH is deliberately trying to boost Trump’s chances at the nomination.

    Likewise Panetta moves to defense, so Petraeus can be neutralized at CIA.

    and shifting Saint David frees Obama from a dominant military and media personality in Afghanistan.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ahasuerus: The birth cert. thing is being discussed in the previous thread. Come on in; the water’s fine.

  12. 12
    RossInDetroit says:

    It is awe or fear. What if the crazy aunt was packing? Because we sure are.

  13. 13
    Culture of Truth says:

    thanks Omnes

  14. 14
    Keith Johnsen says:

    I’m guessing you’re probably Sarah, and probably proud, but not particularly tall. I’m 6’7″ and air travel is a freaking NIGHTMARE.

  15. 15
    bemused says:

    You know this country is a freaking mess when elitists living in rarified worlds like Noonan notices something might just be slightly amiss.

  16. 16
    scav says:

    @JCT: Had a similar incident with a Parisian taxi driver on a rainy night and it didn’t take stellar French to convey that “if we liked Bush, we wouldn’t be here”. He accepted that immediately as irrefutable logic and we all practiced our shrugs, eye-rolling and bofs of incredulity.

  17. 17
    Redshift says:

    @Keith Johnsen: Well, remember, women aren’t as tall as men, and “tall” isn’t as tall for someone born several decades earlier.

    I’m 6’2″ and lucky enough to have less of my height in my legs than most people, and air travel is no more uncomfortable for me than for most people.

    Plus, if you’re flying first class all the way like Sarah, it’s not even an issue.

  18. 18
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @scav: Are you Tom Friedman?

  19. 19
    Graham says:

    Where have you been all my life, SPaT?

  20. 20
    scav says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Alas no, no one’s paying me entirely too much to derive deep deep meaning from a trite incident getting me, my parents and my luggage to the Gare de Lyon.

  21. 21
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @scav: You should look into it as a career. Can you grow a cheesy mustache? I believe it is a job requirement.

  22. 22
    scav says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: difficult. Maybe if it’s a very runny brie.

  23. 23
    Suffern ACE says:

    Sarah is a very gracious reader. I got to the part where the Afghani businessman in his 40s was raised on John Ford movies and wondered why, if they were smuggling copies of movies into war-torn Afghanistan 30-35 years ago, weren’t they at least smuggling in Indiana Jones or Star Wars.

  24. 24
    Hawes says:

    Hmm, crazy Aunt? I think maybe the characters of the Watchmen combined are a good metaphor for how the World sees America. Close to omnipotent, a little creepy, flabby and out of shape, angry but stumbling along in the general direction of “good” while the world collapses around them.

  25. 25
    ErikaF says:

    In 2007, had a great conversation with a native of Brussels about immigration on the train from London to Brussels. We compared and contrasted the US and the European approaches, and how things were changing in Belgium with the influx of Middle Eastern immigration. Her viewpoint was definitely more conservative than ours – keeping in mind that European conservative is about 10 gazillion degrees to the left of our GOP conservative.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    They deal with fat tourists from Texas in walk socks and flip-flops who travel overseas merely so they can shout at the locals in English in order to be understood and get directions to the Hard Rock cafe, and thereby avoid being exposed to anything remotely foreign while in a foreign land.

    This, this, this.

    I can’t tell you how many times I was embarrassed to be an American while stationed in Germany and my fellow Americans (invariably from Texas, it seemed) behaved exactly in this way. Mind you, most soldiers were not so gauche…but the civilians? Aieee!

    SPaT hits the spot, again.

  27. 27
    Ahasuerus says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Always a bridesmaid. Sniff.

  28. 28
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    I can’t tell you how many times I was embarrassed to be an American while stationed in Germany and my fellow Americans (invariably from Texas, it seemed) behaved exactly in this way. Mind you, most soldiers were not so gauche…but the civilians? Aieee!

    There is a difference between living there and visiting.

  29. 29

    [Image – Unveiling the Statue of Liberty – Edward Moran – from Artrenewal.org]

    Is Sarah Proud and Tall a pseudonym for Tom Levenson?

  30. 30
    JCT says:

    @scav: Hah! Classic.

    I think the fact that my daughter was this tiny little 13-yr-old and was arguing with these old cranky Frenchmen in French was part of it in our case.

  31. 31

    Word, Ms. Sarah. Except, I hate flying. And, with all the restrictions these days, I hate it even more.

    When I was in Thailand for a semester decades ago, I could pass as Thai Chinese. I spoke fluently enough to get by, and by listening more than I talked, I was accepted as a native. Which made for really interesting drama when typical American tourists would come storming up to a native who was, say, in charge of renting out boats, and start talking very loudly in English about this, that, or the other thing.

    No courtesy, no attempt to speak a few words of Thai, nothing. I usually got to hear an earful about said tourists after they left.

    As for America, I think her best days are behind her.

    ::Pours one on the curb for America::

  32. 32
    Tehanu says:

    They deal with fat tourists from Texas in walk socks and flip-flops who travel overseas merely so they can shout at the locals in English in order to be understood and get directions to the Hard Rock cafe, and thereby avoid being exposed to anything remotely foreign while in a foreign land.

    My husband’s aunt proudly showed him her snapshots of the prehistoric stone circle of “Henchcliff” when she returned from a visit to England. And complained about the food. When we asked if she liked the food in France better, she replied, “Oh, we just asked for steak and potatoes everywhere.”

  33. 33
    Ruckus says:

    @JCT:
    Actually Sarah—my favorite is getting on a plane, falling asleep and finding myself in the Far East – now that feels like time travel.
    That it does.
    Mine is sitting down and falling right to sleep, waking up feeling refreshed, looking out the window and seeing a brick wall. Thinking/hoping this wasn’t twilight zone I asked my seat mate(never even got to say hello) if we were there yet. His response? You bastard! They pulled the jetway and closed the door 45min ago and you’re the only person on the plane not pissed off because you’ve been sleeping for the whole time.

  34. 34

    […] I post a righteous rant about the world thinking Americans are all insane and then half an hour later the entire United […]

  35. 35

    […] I post a righteous rant about the world thinking Americans are all insane and then half an hour later the entire United […]

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] I post a righteous rant about the world thinking Americans are all insane and then half an hour later the entire United […]

  2. […] I post a righteous rant about the world thinking Americans are all insane and then half an hour later the entire United […]

Comments are closed.