The Current Crisis

America’s Holy Cities

We have them too, don't we?

By 7.31.03

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Washington -- The other day Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of the invaluable Wall Street Journal, wrote a very informative report from Iraq's holy city of Najaf. He wrote in part that things are not going as badly over there for us as most of the other journalists seem to think. He wrote that not as many Iraqis hate us for liberating them from killers, torturers, and thieves as is reported in the rest of the press. He wrote that a particularly pungent piece in the Washington Post headlined "Rumors Spark Iraqi Protests As Pentagon Official Stops By" was based on the protest of a single cleric, residing in the holy city of Najaf. Most of the rest of the Najafians -- if that is the term for the indigenes -- did not share the excitable cleric's sour humor.

Gigot's piece got me to thinking. One of my thoughts was: why in all of America, a country many times the size of Iraq, do we not have any holy cities? Not even the Southern Baptists have been able to create a holy city. I suppose the Mormons believe they have at least one holy city, but the rest of the country appears not to share their enthusiasm. If America did have a holy city, which would we settle on?

I suspect New York would win the liberals' nod, at least prior to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's crackdown on squeegee men. Or possibly Hollywood, California, would get their accolade. It is, after all, their present cultural capital, their Florence, their Athens. I am told the liberals love those Hollywood "action movies" showing busty women in tight-fitting military garb, pistols on their hips, grenades hanging from the bodices, as they beat the living daylights out of flabby white men and various creatures from outer space. The creatures are so bizarre in their physiological components that Darwin if he saw them would laugh -- and Darwin was not a very giggly fellow. They have eyes and ears that serve no imaginable purpose, and appendages that seem useless, and warts, and tails and skin might make any dermatologist a millionaire.

There are other cities that come to mind. For decades now Americans have been listening to rock and roll, or is it rock & roll? Some Americans become very intellectual about this art form, and I would not want to betray an ignorance here that might encourage some 55-year-old lifetime subscriber to Rolling Stone into thinking me musically illiterate. At any rate, rock is a major element in American culture, and so a good prospect for the appellation holy city might be Cleveland, Ohio. The rock cognoscenti will tell you that Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In fact the building in which rock has been enthroned is an architectural masterpiece. Moreover it boasts many facilities for the elderly and disabled, for rock stars age earlier than the rest of us and the rigors of their lifestyle have a lot of them hobbling around on walkers.

Being a native of Chicago, I would like to see this Midwestern colossus termed a holy city, but in all honesty not even many Chicagoans would relish their town being raised the eminence of "holy city." There is its mafia past. Two generations of the Daley Machine in city hall make the sanctification of Chicago unlikely; and the Rev Jesse Jackson claims to live there, complete with mistresses and his funny money operations. Then too Chicagoans relish the reputation of their city as being a "tough town." If we were to raise it to the level of holy city we might get beaten up.

So deciding on an American holy city is not an easy task. Yet looking back on American history I think we can all agree that America's best candidate for the designation "holy city" is Washington, D.C. Liberals have since FDR's day seen Washington as the great magic wand capable of righting all wrongs and succoring the nation's teeming masses of indigents. Quite possibly liberals admire Washington even more than they admire Hollywood in all of its intellectual splendor. Conservatives of a patriotic stripe remember Washington for the monuments and for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. Among the politically alive, only Americans of strict libertarian rigor are without reverence for our nation's capital, but then one cannot imagine a libertarian accepting any city as holy.

So here is my recommendation. Henceforth let us consider Washington our holy city. If we are insistent enough journalists from such prestigious Arab media outlets as al-Jazeera will have to speak of "the holy city of Washington." Imagine the headlines: "Bush Returns to the Holy City of Washington." Or an al-Jazeera reporter might begin an on-the-scene television report with "I traveled into the holy city of Washington last night to…." This holy city business can cut both ways.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.