20 great things about America: Part 1

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Fourth of July weekend is upon us, and as we’ve done before here, we want to celebrate some of the great things about America. There's a long-overdue debate coursing through the country about the meaning of patriotism. For way too long, the mainstream image of American patriotism has often been confused with blind nationalism, chest thumping, and military “adventures.” I suggest another way to love the United States. Let's celebrate our heritage of independent thought, our underlying, wild, democratic instincts, and our national belief in progress. Let's honor our exhilarating popular culture, our love of athletics, and our role as a haven for other countries' outcasts; our brassy expansiveness, gorgeous landscapes, and our astonishing cultural variety. In that vein, here's a Top 20 list of great things about America, none of which have to do with going overseas to shoot foreigners. Think of it as a way to remember that the country belongs to all of us. Here is Part 1 of our list, comprising numbers 11-20. We’ll post the rest of the list tomorrow. Happy Fourth!

20. America's great college towns like Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor, Madison, Amherst, Athens, Lexington, Bellingham, Ithaca, Northampton, Berkeley, Oxford and lots of others — places where the sense of open-mindedness and possibility is almost tangible.

19. The Vietnam War Memorial, for its egalitarianism, the ambience of loss, and the way it ennobles war deaths without glorifying the politicians who caused them.

18. American cranks and quirky thinkers with transformative visions: Henry Thoreau, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Cady Staton, W.J. Cash, Thomas Jefferson, Sam Phillips, Jack Kerouac, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Edison, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothy Day, Harriet Tubman, John Cage, Thomas Dorsey, Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, Josephine Baker, George Carlin.

17. Apple computers.

16. The beauty of Western landscapes, particularly the sweeping desert vistas of the Southwest, and the sight of the Rockies rising up out of the plains as you head west.

15. Rock 'n' roll's early pioneers, who were braver than they're given credit for, in the vanguard of both rhythm and race relations: Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, and all the rest.

14. The brave women who defied some of our deepest taboos and fought ferociously for the right to vote. In the 1970s, their descendants would launch the wrenching, liberating dialogues of women's groups that revitalized feminism and changed the country for the better.

13. Chicago — often overlooked in the national mind by its coastal rivals New York and L.A., but evincing its own power, creativity, and beauty.

12. Independent bookstores.

11. All-American Athletic Heroes: Babe Ruth, LeBron James, Muhammad Ali, Babe Didrikson Zacharias, Joe Namath, Mia Hamm, Reggie Jackson, Satchel Paige, Jack Nicklaus, Serena Williams, Jack Dempsey, Hank Aaron, Billie Jean King, Mickey Mantle, Wilma Rudolph, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Derek Jeter, Bill Russell, etc.

Walt Whitman
  • Walt Whitman

Chuck Berry
  • Chuck Berry

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