Visitors at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
Calvin Coolidge didn’t quite say that “the business of America is business,” but he could have said the “bigness of America is bigness.”
First of all, we’re literally huge — third-largest by area alone, but No. 1 in geographic diversity and cool stuff. The best junk they’ve got in Canada and Russia, we’ve got too. But those guys don’t have Hawaii or the American southland (and none of this takes into account that the American-flagged moon is ours, thanks to the International Law of Finders, Keepers and the giant cojones it took to colonize the thing in the first place).
America is also large of spirit. Foreigners know this and will often tell you this. Abroad, Americans stand out so much, they almost glow. What Texans and Californians are to other Americans, Americans are to much of the world. Our flintiest New Englanders are like cruise directors compared with many Eastern Europeans. We’re a deeply charitable people — far more charitable than any European country, no matter how you measure it.
We’ve got the biggest businesses, or at least the biggest number of them. We also have the biggest amount of the biggest stuff — whether it’s the world’s largest ball of string or the solar system’s biggest piñata.
And just like a giant piñata, we contain multitudes. Bigness doesn’t necessarily mean sameness. We’re generous but quick-tempered, moralistic yet forgiving. (We declared war against the British and then became BFFs. We duked it — and in one case nuked it — out with the Axis powers and now we’re all buds, too.) Just as you can hit a piñata from any angle and get some reward, America is big enough to be vulnerable to almost any criticism. But those criticisms require focusing on the negatives to the exclusion of the lion’s share of positives.
America may be more than just an idea, but man, what an idea. It was an idea so big that if it were a Twinkie it would be a Twinkie large enough to blot out the Manhattan skyline. And that idea — the fine print of which is available for your perusal in the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech — is that we don’t have to take guff from anybody, including the government, without good reason. And that, more than anything else, explains the manifest bigness of America.
This article appears as “The Bigness” in the September 9, 2019, print edition of National Review.