A Sunny Day in Brooklyn and the American Dream - Spectator Blogs

2 October 2012

From Peggy Noonan’s blog which, unusually for a political columnist, is almost always lovely and generous and warmly-acute:

“Man needs less to be instructed than reminded,” Dr. Johnson said, but it wasn’t really a reminder I got yesterday, it was a sort of revivifier.

I was at the big annual street fair in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Big turnout, beautiful day, many thousands of people clogging Third Avenue from the 60s through the 80s, what looked like more than a hundred booths. The people filling the avenue were an incredible mix—young and old, infants and grandmas, all colors and nationalities, families, kids in groups, all kinds of garb—young Arab women in headscarves and abayas, Italian kids from the old Bay Ridge, elderly Irish women who go to the local evangelical church, young Latinos, tall blond Nordic-looking girls in black suede leather boots, Filipino families. In the beauty shop on 76th Street where my mother popped in to get her hair done everyone spoke Chinese, including a 5- or 6-year-old Asian girl so proud of her new bangs. One booth looked like a gold souk and sold Arab dress. Another sold Catholic saints’ cards, crucifixes and Rosary beads. At the Obama 2012 booth, some members of “Brooklyn Democrats for Change” teased me, gave me an Obama button, and posed for pictures. (No Romney booth, alas.) At another, evangelicals offered a free New Testament, and when I said I already had one, they asked if they could pray for a specific intention. I said yes, my back’s bothering me, and a white-haired woman put her hands on my neck and back, said a prayer and asked for a healing in Jesus Christ’s name. A Mexican woman across the way had a headset on and was telling everyone how to make the best salad ever with her Super-Hyper-Veg-O-Matic. She had a big crowd. Young Asian kids with iPhones were tweeting what they were seeing as they walked behind their grandparents. Two teenage Arab girls were sitting on storage boxes and laughing, and as I walked by I saw they were breezing through pictures on an iPhone and posting them on Facebook.

I’m walking along with my niece and her baby and fiancé, Dominic, and suddenly in some new way it hits me. “The entire political future of America is on this street,” I said.

Everyone different, everyone getting along, everyone feeling free to be who they are but everyone also—you could just kind of see it—feeling free to be different from who they are, too. Everyone selling their wares, not just material ones but spiritual ones. There was a really loud kind of rap group, and I asked who it was because I didn’t get its composition—young black and Hispanic men, a middle-aged white woman. Singers from a local church, I was told. The Knights of Columbus were giving out flyers: Come to the October dinner dance. The Gateway City Church was inviting you to an “Overcomers Meeting . . . a fellowship of men and women who are dealing with alcohol, drugs, nicotine, depression and anxiety, fears, anger, gambling, lust, family problems. . . . All are welcome regardless of religious and spiritual beliefs and persuasions.” An Albanian sect of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was there, too.

This, she says, is the future of America. Not because it’s New York City or even Brooklyn (though of course it’s both of those) but because this is where it begins. This, she says, is where you see “the big mix” that becomes “the big blend“. It’s that e pluribus unum thing. It often starts in Brooklyn or Los Angeles or San Antonio but it spreads across the continent.

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And, as Noonan suggests, every so often you need a reminder of how extraordinary it all really is. It’s easy to scoff at the Great American Experiment’s shortcomings and sometimes, yes, a measure of scepticism is warranted. But every so often and despite everything else there’s a glimpse – and sometimes more than just a snapshot – of what it’s all about.

A sunny day in Brooklyn is as good a place as any to start.  Peggy Noonan says that “we’re getting it righter than we know” and I think she’s right. There’s a sense in which America is always fresh off the boat. You’ll know America is failing when you lose that sense and the wonder that it occasions.

That’s something worth remembering this election season.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice think.

  • Beefeater

    Noonan has a musical voice. She likes pixie-dust touches in her speeches. There is ever-present a sentimentality – what you call her being “warmly-acute” – in her writing.
    What is the substance of this lovely day essay? Her own open-minded warm-heartedness. She takes an Obama button! She accepts a prayer! She feels their joy! She sees them laugh!
    E pluribus Noonan. Welcome to the melting potty.

  • Daniel Maris

    The USA is the most remarkable country on the planet – the only one clearly founded on the basis of an idea rather than an ethnicity, or dynasty.

    However, success doesn’t necessarily last forever. The fatal weakness in the American constitution is that it makes no provision for the language of the country (the founders clearly thinking it was obvious beyond obvious that it would be English). Spanish is now English’s competitor.

    New York City is not America. It has always been more heterogenous than the rest of the country. The reality is that mass immigration is turning the USA into an Hispanic country with a majoritarian community who don’t share the idea of an Anglolinguistic America. The Hispanic community grew by 15 million in one decade (2000-2010).
    They will be the dominant community in another 3-4 decades. New York’s diversity will become increasingly irrelevant in my view.

  • Augustus

    “we’re getting it righter than we know”
    They certainly don’t need to get it lefter, because four more years of Obama will solidify a
    ‘new normal’ of high permanent unemployment, low growth, and steady progress to a debt crisis that will inevitably remove their status as ‘the’ international superpower.

    • CraigStrachan

      I wouldn’t bet on that, if I were you.

      I wonder what Peggy Noonan’s old boss would think of a right that has become so dystopian and pessimistic?

  • Arthur

    It seems like she’s describing a multi-cultural utopia. I hope it works out for her, but I’ve been to Blackburn.

    • arnoldo87

      In one sense it is multicultural – in another it is monocultural. These different groups were not ghettoised but were together in the same space and were relaxed in each other’s company.
      And in the future in such an environment there is huge scope for cultural mixing and cross-pollenation. Which is just marvellous.

  • CraigStrachan

    Yup. Of my 23 years in America, I’d say the first was filled with amazement, the next couple were clouded by doubts, which cleared and resolved into two decades-and-counting of wonderment.

    This lonely pilgrim from a lost place (Bearsden, in my case) has hurtled through the darkness and found home!

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