After an ugly election season, can we celebrate what unites us?
Americans get along better than we give ourselves credit for — and our musicians and sports teams give us a place to celebrate that.
Much has been said this year, especially in recent weeks, about the alleged shortage of open-mindedness and tolerance in the United States. With America’s most sacred secular holiday upon us, what might real-life musical and athletic metaphors teach? Let’s start with classical music.
The musical director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is a Latvian, Andris Nelsons.
The musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is an Italian, Riccardo Muti.
The musical director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is a Frenchman, Louis Langree.
The musical director of the Seattle Symphony is another Frenchman, Ludovic Morlot.
Leading the Cleveland Orchestra is an Austrian, Franz Welser-Most.
Leading the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is a Dutchman, Jaap van Zweden — who in 2018 will take the baton of the New York Philharmonic.
Also from the Netherlands is the musical director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Edo de Waart, who formerly led the Minnesota Orchestra.
Continuing our Americanized trip around the world, the Houston Symphony is led by a Colombian, Andres Orozco-Estrada.
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is led by a Pole, Krzysztof Urbanski.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic is led by a Venezuelan, Gustavo Dudamel.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is led by a Canadian, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who also is the musical director-designate of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is led by an Austrian, Manfred Honeck.
The Utah Symphony is led by a Swiss, Thierry Fischer.
And the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is led by JoAnn Falletta, originally from Queens.
Then, of course, there is our magnificent Minnesota Orchestra, whose musical director is Osmo Vänskä, a Finn. Who succeeded Eiji Oue, originally from Japan. Who succeeded de Waart, who succeeded Neville Marriner, originally from England. Who succeeded Stanislaw Skrowaczewski originally from Poland or Ukraine (it’s complicated).
The remarkable Skrowaczewski succeeded Antal Dorati, originally from Hungary. Who succeeded Dimitri Mitropoulos, originally from Greece. Who succeeded Eugene Ormandy, originally from Hungary. Who succeeded Henri Verbrugghen, originally from Belgium. Who succeeded Emil Oberhoffer, originally from Germany, the founder of what was known until 1968 as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Granted, as elite travelogues go, the near-total absence of Americans might cause one to wonder how adept even extra-talented, homegrown conductors are. But more to the point at hand, I don’t know of any research that suggests potential audience members in the United States stay home because they can’t spell or pronounce maestro names other than Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, or Lawrence Welk.
Which brings us, awkwardly albeit illustratively, to the National Basketball Association.
There are 30 teams in the NBA. Each is allowed to carry 15 players, making for a maximum of 450. Only the most attentive fans know that exactly 25 percent of players on opening night rosters a few weeks ago were “international players,” representing 41 foreign countries. (Even casual fans have a sense that about three-quarters of NBA players are black. As Yogi Berra said, it’s possible to observe a lot by just watching.)
Nearly half of the Utah Jazz roster last month (seven out of 15) was composed of foreign players. If the team does well this season, I trust Utahans will be hardly less jazzed than if half of the team had grown up in Provo.
Or, if the Minnesota Timberwolves were to have a rare good year, I trust enthusiasm out here would be just as great — never mind that fully one-third of the T-Wolves’ opening night roster was composed of foreigners, with nary a Scandinavian in sight to soften the cultural blow: Nemanja Bjelica is from Serbia; Gorgui Dieng is from Senegal; Nikola Pekovic is from Montenegro; Ricky Rubio is from Spain; and Andrew Wiggins is from the wilds of Ontario.
Or thinking baseball, does anyone really believe the ecstasy still washing over white Chicago Cub fans would be any more intense if about 40 percent of their World Series-winning team had not been black or Latino?
Or consider how truly excited all stripes of Minnesota Lynx fans are when the team’s mostly black players win WNBA championships, as they seem to do every other year.
Not a news flash, but we are far from a perfect people racially and in other ways, especially as recent surges of nastiness have dishonorably demonstrated. But I have long argued that the nearly third-of-a-billion variegated people who comprise the United States get along much better than we routinely give ourselves credit for. The multiplicity of complexions and strange-sounding names to which we hitch our allegiances and emotions stand as witness that Americans — very much including Minnesotans — are anything but the provincially standoffish and racially distasteful bunch we are sometimes charged with being.
The ugliness of this year’s ridiculously long election exercise — racially, ethnically, religiously, and sexually — has been embarrassing in many ways, not least in the rash stereotyping of fellow citizens and the crude mocking of those with physical disabilities. Even so, none of the offensiveness has risen to undermining fundamental faith in our nation’s civic soul.
Or, to the extent that it has in some quarters, it shouldn’t be allowed to persist past Thanksgiving dinner.
Mitch Pearlstein is founder of Center of the American Experiment.