Was, is, or has America ever been "great?"

“America was and still is great”, but I didn’t vote since you didn’t give options for those of us who don’t identify as either “conservative” or “liberal”.

Our country is based on ideology, not ethnicity or religion. And the ideology is one that strives to make things better for more people. And that is hard when you have a large and diverse country. Other countries might do better, but they’re invariably smaller and less diverse.

Not sure I said that, actually.

Was and still is great.

Note that great does not mean without flaws. We have plenty of those. But if you consider America compared to all other societies and countries in human history, we’re doing way better than most. And our ideals are hopefully putting us on the path toward correcting many of those flaws.

Ha, that got a chuckle out of me. I can honestly imagine you guys seeing some American news story on the tele and thinking that… I really can.

Everything’s relative, of course.

It’s funny, I can track the change over my lifetime. I was only around for the tail-end of the 60s and I missed the 50s when US prestige was at its zenith, but I can remember the 70s when the US was seen {admittedly from a small, isolated and restrictive country at the bottom of the world} as the benchmark for aspiration. I mean fuck, we wanted to be American, we wanted to go to America, we wanted American stuff. America was the hegemon.

I think that prestige started to decline in the 80s with Reagan, who was seen from the outside as being a dangerous clown, by the 90s we saw the shine was wearing off, and antics of the early 2000s pretty much tarnished it beyond polishing. And yeah, I’ve heard the argument “but millions of people still want to come to the US”: the thing is, though, they aren’t coming from Europe anymore, they’re coming from India, the Middle East and China.

I would imagine that much of this poll and discussion actually revolves around the semantics of the word ‘great’; what is meant, exactly, by the question? Does ‘great’ mean Powerful? Good? Moral? Man, I dunno…

One thing is for sure: the USA is fascinating. It is one-of-a-kind, idiosyncratically unique, whatever. You could say that about a lot of countries, I suppose, but America stands out for me as being an astonishing case-study in modern politics, economics, sociology andsoon… x

If I were American - and I’m not - I’m not sure I’d be either proud or ashamed of living where I lived, but I would certainly be interested by it. In-no-particular order, and by no means-exhaustively, you have…

  • a bizarrely convoluted electoral process
  • a prodigious and fiercely creative - albeit also highly commercialised - media industry
  • the most powerful military in all of human history ever
  • contradictions abounding vis-a-vis the liberty of the individual vs the power of the state
  • leadership that goes ‘Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump(?)’
  • laws where porn is okay but prostitution isn’t
  • fantastic linguistic variety
  • natural beauty par excellence
  • space travel

I could go on all night…In thousands of years time, long after ‘The United States of America’ has ceased to exist, people will continue to talk and read about it. It will be the most famous country there ever was.

No, I’m just trying to imagine where you live that doesn’t have the similar stuff on their nightly news.

Plus I don’t think foreigners really understand how big and diverse the United States are. Shootings in Dallas, TX or riots in Ferguson, MO might as well be in a separate country for someone in New York.

So when you say “I wouldn’t want to live there”, there are a lot of different “theres” in the USA to pick from.

And what’s wrong with that? If millions of people from Mexico want to come to the USA but few want to travel the other way, it must be the case that the USA is a more desirable place to live. If thousands still arrive every year from El Salvador, China, India, Nigeria, and scores of other countries, then apparently the USA looks pretty attractive to a lot of people.

One can say that fewer Europeans are moving to the USA now than in 1890, and that’s true. So now much of Europe has pulled itself up to a quality of life comparable to the USA. Well that’s great. It’s not a reason to view America as less great.

I would be the first to acknowledge that the USA has many significant flaws right now and always has. I have yet to see a flawless country. But the USA:
[li]Had the world’s first democratic national government, and our model of democratic government has influenced virtually all others.[/li][li]American institutions, from the National Parks to public schools, have been copied by many other countries.[/li][li]American corporations, charitable organizations, charities, universities, and other institutions have played a large role all over the world.[/li][li]Americans are responsible for far more important scientific discoveries and inventions than any other country.[/li][li]America provides far more charitable contributions, food aid, and disaster relief to poor countries in need than any other country.[/li][/ul]

America is like that one kid you went to school with. The one who was arrogant, overly entitled, obnoxious, and willful. But man, is he a genius! And you can tell he is a genius based on the quality of his best work. But he’s lazy. You have to really shame him to get him to do anything. He still hasn’t learned that staying on top of things all on his own is better than waiting till the last minute before catastrophe.

But is he the worse student in the class? No, not by long shot. He’s not the best either, but give it time. He’s still relatively young compared to his peers. He’s still got a lot more growing to do.

I think America is better than it has ever been, despite the economic concerns. But I’m not ready to give it the “great” label yet.

whether or not this country was great depends largely on who you are/were and where you lived. I think when people say “Make America Great Again,” they’re talking about either one of two periods of this country’s history:

  1. the decade immediately following the end of WWII, or
  2. The early 1980s (it’s no coincidence that “Let’s Make America Great Again” was one of Reagan’s slogans for the 1980 election.)

The boom we experienced post WWII was as much good fortune as anything else. We came out of the war relatively unscathed; we hadn’t had our infrastructure bombed to smithereens, we had a ton of returning servicemen who would need jobs, and we had a ton of factories waiting to employ them (kicking out the women who worked there during the war.) Plus there was pent-up demand for manufactured goods like cars which had stopped production in favor of making military hardware. So you could get a decent paying job on an assembly line, buy a house, and start a family.

But that didn’t last long; we headed into a recession in 1953, and a much worse one in 1958. And the legendary US auto industry was already starting its slow collapse. Nash and Hudson had to merge (to form AMC) in 1954, Packard went bust in 1958 leaving a crumbling assembly plant which still sits today at Mt. Elliot and Concord in Detroit. I drive past it twice a day. Willys-Overland stopped building cars in 1955, and by 1970 sold the Jeep operation to AMC. Studebaker would go Tango Uniform in 1967. And nobody wants to admit that the Interstate highways we take for granted today were part of a huge public works project (OMG Socialism!!!) kicked off by Eisenhower.

then we started out on the first of our many ill-fated proxy wars against the Soviet Union.

but, the problem is that there are too many people who think re-runs of Leave it to Beaver are documentaries of 1950s America and insist we “go back to that.” Too bad it was never like that. people complained about Roseanne because it dared to depict a family which wasn’t distilled perfection, yet they refused to admit no family is perfect. the middle class has never lived in a lily-white neighborhood where every household is mom (who does housework in her best dress and pearls,) dad (who walks in in suit & tie saying “Hi honey, I’m home”) and their 2-3 little rascals (who are always "golly gee whiz, dad was real sore on account of I forgot to take the trash out last night.)

and let’s not forget that while a lot of people know about the Detroit riots of 1967, there was also one in 1943.

as for the 1980s, a big part of that was a natural recovery from recessions and the two energy crises of the 1970s. Were we great then? I don’t know. We were busy ceding a lot of our industry to the Japanese; I remember about the time when Sony bought Columbia Pictures, Time Magazine had on their cover an ominous “JAPAN, INC.” graphic. They were busy kicking our auto industry in the ass, they were busy kicking our electronics industry in the ass, etc.

Were we ever great? maybe, back in the 1780s when we codified rights* that few other countries did. But the rest of the world has caught up.

  • yes, I know those only applied to white men, but I’m keeping it in the context of 18th century Europe.

The big problem with this question is that no definition of “great” is meaningful. Has any country ever been “great”? What could that mean? Is it an objective definition? A relative one? Was England a greater nation when America was an infant thousands of miles away from civilization than today? What’s changed about it? The loss of empire? Does that make it less great? Or is that a plus?

But let’s say for argument that great means something. So we stack America up against all the other countries. What’s different about it that could make it great?

It’s never had an upper/ruling class. You can’t overestimate how important that is or how historically unique. Do a regression analysis and I’d bet this one fact accounts for way more of what makes America great than anything else.

America has been (usually) open to (most) immigrants. The creation of 20th century America would have been impossible without those tens of millions of eager strivers. Again, there’s nothing like that historically in other countries.

The country was not owned. Every square foot of Europe was owned by some member of the upper class. America wasn’t. People went into places owned by the government and made them into the breadbasket of the world and some of its greatest industrial cities.

It (except one tiny fragment) never was invaded and flattened by foreign governments. The South burned during the Civil War and it took them a century to begin to get over it. The majority have been safe. Safety is a wonderful thing that Americans take utterly for granted.

There are tons of freedoms. The First Amendment is amazing. What country in history has ever allowed people to say whatever they wanted? The absence of a state church is equally unusual. People aren’t just allowed to speak out; they assumed and used that privilege in a way that baffled people from other countries.

Does this leave out a lot of history? Sure. The land may not have been owned, but it was occupied by people without a concept of land ownership who got shafted for that lack. Immigrants were welcomed except when they were banned, but others were dragged here against their will and establishing half a country on chattel slavery has been a cancer since 1776. We don’t have an established religion, but Christians acted as a self-anointed upper class. A lot of people have gotten into a lot of trouble for saying unpopular things. Can any country with this history be called “great”?

Beats me. If you answer the question “yes” then America is great and has been great at least since the Civil War. What other country can make these claims? America is unique in an amazing number of important ways. Every other country strives to emulate the things that make it great. Dark spots galore, true, but it shares its dark history with the dark histories of every other country. If people from those countries want to make cases for greatness, I’m sure they can find a different set of criteria that works for them. But I’m continually stunned more by America’s differences from the world than its similarities.

Was great, and still is great. But it can be a lot better. We’re not nearly as great as we should be. And greatness includes being a great neighbor who treats others well, and it also includes some semblance of America First. A touchy balance.

It’s a question that we shouldn’t ask. We should only ask ourselves “how can we be better?”

I didn’t vote as I’m Australian and I only have an outsiders view from afar, but it’s interesting that “Great” can be such a subjective term.

Pick a time frame and over lay it. The 1950’s were probably great if you were a white man, maybe not so great if you were female or black so it’s very subjective.

England supposedly built the greatest empire even seen, so was England great? Depends who you asked I suppose, some would say ‘yes’, but those living in poverty and filth or being shipped off to a prison country half way around the world for stealing food may have had a different view.

New Zealand.

What I was going to say. I didn’t vote in the poll because as far as I’m concerned the question is meaningless unless “great” is defined first.

That’s the point of this thread - to define what ‘great’ means.

Child of the 60s. I thought/think we were pretty great then (at least us liberals) because we knew what we were fighting for. There was a very positive vibe even at things like the anti-war marches. Now? Try to get any kind of huge turn-out for an anti-war march and those who do show are some of the gloomiest most boring people you can find. Ah, to have Nixon back and kick him around some more! :wink:

This is a great analogy!
And it works if you compare America and Europe to two private citizens in the USA.

Imagine two Americans citizens, one from New York City, one from a smaller town.
The New Yorker willl tell you the same thing…how great the city is, has the best of everything, the most stuff going on, etc…
While the small-town US resident represents Europe: he’ll tell you how goddamn obnoxious New Yorkers are. But, yeah, it sure is a great place to visit.

(And, he’ll also admit-secretly to himself- that he’s glad New York is so great. Because if it wasn’t, then his own life in the small town would be a little worse off, too.)

I’m not American but identify as a liberal (for the purposes of this thread at least). And I believe America was once the greatest country on the planet!

Growing up in the 1960’s, America was the at the forefront of technological, social and economic changes. Americans landed on the moon, Americans made blockbuster movies and Americans had Disneyland. FFS, what more could you ask for?

Alas, since then, America has diminished in greatness. Nowadays when I think of countries right up there at the cutting edge, America ain’t in the list. America has become (in my opinion) a country to laugh and point at, a mere parody of it’s previous ‘greatness’.

Vote Trump in as your next president, and you’ll have lost ALL credibility in the rest of the civilized world.

Good luck USA…you really need it.