On Tuesday night, while conducting this Substack’s first live-stream Q & A (a now monthly “thank you” to our paid members), I was asked a question by Anupa Perera from Toronto that took me a bit by surprise:
“Thank you so much for all that you do! My question: What do you like about America?”
What do I like about America? Wow. A dozen things immediately came to mind. But then I paused, wondering at first if she was asking me this question because she thought I disliked my country. What had I done to make this Canadian think such a thing? Of course I realize I am seen as one of America’s most vocal critics. That’s Ok. I am. Proudly. So this is the answer I gave her:
“Does it sound like I don't like America? I think one of the best things you can do is, if you love your country and you love your fellow citizens, is to point out the things which we've got to fix — and then fix them. Obviously, I want it to be better here. I want to live in a better country. I want us to treat the people of this world better. Some of you have heard me say this before — that I want to ‘save the America we've never had.’
And the truth is, I'm really tired. Just like a lot of you during this pandemic, I'm really burned out and exhausted. I'm sorry that the rest of the world has to see us this way. But we can change that and we can fix ourselves.”
And all of that is true. But my answer felt incomplete. And impersonal on my part. It wasn’t the whole story. The truth is, I really, really love this country and its people, my people. Still, I worried that perhaps I’ve never made this abundantly clear.
For days I haven’t been able to get her question out of my head. And what I truly wanted to say to her — and to all of you.
So here I go. Let’s set the record straight. There are, I’ve concluded after much thought, 13 things I desperately like about the USA. Here they are:
1. The First Amendment
You can literally and legally say anything you want in the United States of America — except you can’t yell “THIS MOVIE SUCKS!” in a crowded theater. The free speech protections are so absolute, you can even lie as long as you don’t know you’re lying and you are not doing it with malice. You can hold any kind of opinion you want, and you can conduct any form of peaceful protest. You can even legally brandish your gun at that peaceful protest! You can belong to the craziest religion and worship an old shoe as your god if you want. These rights are hard-fast and intractable. Some will argue this has not helped us lately. But I take the position that the crazy surrounding us now forces the rest of us to sharpen our brains and engage in the debate, armed with facts and compassion — and with that we will come out ahead. And we have. By over 7 million votes! More of that! And yes, that makes me like America.
2. We are not a melting pot — we’re a big, beautiful stew!
What makes this such a crazy, cool, exciting place to live is its immense diversity — thousands, millions, from each and every country on Earth. A nation whose people speak between 350 and 420 different languages.
Thank God we are not a melting pot. Who would we be if we all just melted into one homogenous caldron of iron? Isn’t it better that we are more like a stew or a salad — a variety of ingredients that keep their own individual identity, but come together as one entity to create something very tasty and often quite good?
Our American diversity creates a vast expanse of ideas, inventions, creativity, politics, beliefs, food, culture, community — and all of this is happening despite the high levels of racism, misogyny, capitalist greed and the relentless everyday crushing by the haves of the have-nots. What a testimony to us that, with all of the hate we have to overcome from each other, our country has ended up giving the world everything from the Polio vaccine to the zipper to Chuck D to the internet. Two brothers from Ann Arbor invented Photoshop. Two sisters and a friend began Planned Parenthood. Two siblings from Dayton were the first to build and fly an airplane. A Syrian Muslim American baby is adopted by two Armenian Americans and they name the baby Steve Jobs.
Fortunately, there is no mass assembly of our citizenry into robotic automatons. We all seemingly have a different sense of humor. In any given minute there’s a million new directions in which we can go because we are constantly asking “WHY NOT?!” Even the idiots amongst us are just so cute and adorable as they walk around clueless in a zombified state, completely unaware that we have brought the planet to its reluctant knees. We take and post spectacular snapshots of our grilled salmon. We make silly Tik-Toks of ourselves dancing to “Billie Jean” and we try not to worry about our cousin who just sent us “proof” of the aborted fetal cells secretly placed inside the Pfizer vaccine. Madness. But we are also Ava DuVernay, Cornel West, Quentin Tarantino, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, AOC, Aziz Ansari, Barbara Lee, Ang Lee, Billy Collins, Linda Sarsour, Rod Birleson, Susan Sarandon, Alexandria Villaseñor, my mailman “Willy” Williams, Kathy Najimy, Daniel Ellsberg, Mehdi Hasan, Katie Halper, Sam Riddle, every IATSE member on my union crew, Francesca Fiorentini, and Mr. Vineski, our beloved and crusty grade school janitor.
I love all of this about all of us and I can’t imagine wanting it any other way.
3. There are more women than men in medical school and law school, more American women than men who won medals at this year’s Olympics, and most weeks on the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List there are as many or more women authors than men.
Welcome to our new American future. I’m trusting it will be kinder and smarter when old angry white men won’t be calling all the shots. By the 2040s, white people will be the minority. Women are already the majority — in part because they live four years longer than men. They go to the dentist. They vote more than men. And they account for a whopping 80% of all fiction books sold in America. The average age of an American today is 37 years old. The average member of the working class is a woman of color in her 40s. This is turning into a great and much better stew.
Save up and come to New York City just once for a long weekend (Thursday-Sunday). Go to Times Square and get the cheap, half-price Broadway or Off-Broadway tickets — and see 6 plays over those 4 days! You will go back home with your feet a-dancin’, your horizons expanded, and your mind blown. Your 9 to 5 cubicle will never look the same again. Some day you may pick up a pen, get a notebook, and export the crazy wonderful stories that are in your head and, with your own hand, put them down on paper. Paper! They will be read by you over and over and they will bring you joy and comfort. Perhaps later they will be read or experienced by others. This is the ticket to Freedom. This is why I like America. (Note: When I was on Broadway in 2017, I asked my producers to lower the ticket price in the balcony to $29 — and if anyone from my town in Michigan wrote me and said they couldn’t afford that, I told the box office to let them in for free. And in spite of all those discounts and freebies, I was still the top-grossing Broadway play (non-musical) for 6 weeks of my 12-week limited run. My point to Broadway producers: let’s make all theater affordable to everyone!)
5. I like America because we have good neighbors. The Canadians invented the Telephone, Basketball, and the Garbage Bag. And then they didn’t!
You probably thought we Americans created all that! Ha! That’s why we’re so good. Masters of illusion! We’re the kind of neighbor that borrows the Tupperware and forgets to return it. We love borrowing all kinds of ideas from our neighbors and then making them better — and then finally making them ours. And don’t forget Mexico! They think we’re so great and wonderful, they want to live here! They look at us and see millions of white supremacists and say to themselves, “Now THAT is where I want to raise my kids!” Why reject people who love us in spite of our flaws? I don’t know any French who want to give up their homes and citizenship and dessert and be one of us. Plus, don’t forget — the Mexicans gave us popcorn, chocolate, chewing gum, cotton, potatoes and the tomato. Mmmmmerica!
6. We are the only country on Earth with an Arctic AND a Tropical climate. And we are surrounded by three oceans.
In other words, I can roam in the desert, slide down a vanishing glacier, take a walk in the woods, make snow angels in a blizzard, wrestle an alligator, climb a 20,000 ft mountain, grow oranges, live in a city of 9 million yet be just 10 minutes from the wilderness of the Palisades, chase tornadoes, outrun hurricanes, live in a bayou, dig up dinosaurs, and sit and watch a Joshua Tree survive or a honeybee die. I can do all of this — and never leave my home.
7. There are so many people here, you can find your audience for whatever your talent is.
You can be a niche musician of any genre, and if you’re good at it, there are so many Americans — 330 million of us — from which to find your audience. Your chance of filling a thousand-seat auditorium is not as difficult as you might think. You can be an indie filmmaker with 299 million of your fellow Americans who detest your movies — but if just 1/300th of this country friggin’ loves you, you’ll have an incredible $10 million opening weekend! Sounds doable! Play the massive numbers — they’re in your favor. This isn’t Belgium. Just 40,000 readers out of 300 million citizens is all you need to make that bestseller list! You can like America, and it can like you, too.
8. We Americans already know how to fix the climate catastrophe, replace capitalism with democratic socialism, and make great pizza.
From the over 1,000 socialist mayors and other elected officials of the early 1900s to the socialist programs of FDR to Bernie winning nearly half of all the state Democratic primaries in 2016, the majority of Americans are standing ready to finally have paid family leave, free community college, free pre-K, expanded Medicare with free hearing aids and glasses for the elderly, student debt forgiveness, child care costs cut in half, two hot meals a day in school for all children, a $15 to $20-an-hour minimum wage and the cost of prescriptions cut by 59 to 79%. And nearly everyone now agrees the rich need to start paying their share of the taxes. Americans are natural democratic socialists — “We, the people“ are the first three words of our country’s constitution! We created the world’s first massive system of free public libraries, free fire departments (yes, back in the day, if your house caught fire, you had to pay to have it put out) and free public schools for everyone. Whether we use the “S” word or not, most of us believe everyone deserves a seat at the table and a fair slice of the pie. That’s what makes it so nice to live here, knowing that a couple hundred million people think just like you do! I like this about America and I like knowing we’ll soon be a flawed but well-meaning quasi-socialist paradise — and I’ll be alive to see it.
9. Rock-n-Roll, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Punk, Soul, The Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Gospel, Detroit Techno, American Folk and Weird Al Yankovic.
Just a sampling of the music we’ve invented and given to the world. This alone is reason enough to be grateful to have grown up here, live here and go for a nice long drive here — with the windows open or the top down and the radio cranked to 11.
10. For a nation of great killers, none of us are forced by the State to kill anyone.
If there’s a military draft, anyone can sign a card saying they refuse to kill and they won’t be given a gun. I liked that when I was 18 and I said to the local draft board, “No Vietnamese ever called me a snowflake!” Hell no, I wouldn’t go, and I liked that I could do that in such a militaristic country.
11. You can pass a ten dollar bill during a game at the stadium down a row of 15 strangers…
…and not only will the ten bucks be faithfully delivered to the vendor in the aisle, both hot dogs with mustard and relish will make it all the way back to you, unstolen, uneaten and intact. Yes, we have crime, but no one steals another person’s hot dog. UnAmerican.
12. The Moooovies!
13. We Are a Hot Mess!
Yes, there’s a lot wrong in America. But that gives us each a chance to fix it. There’s literally something we can do to fix something here every single night and day. Never boring! Never a dull moment! What would we do if we all lived in Denmark?! Ride bikes?
So there you go. What’s not to like?! 13 great things about America! How ‘bout we go for 13 more...