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Those were the days: when was America greatest? When was life in the US best?

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 09:52 am
Trump's slogan, Make America Great Again, kind of begs the question: when do Trump supporters feel America was still great? When did it stop being great? The Clinton campaign's answer is pretty straightforward: never. America is still great! But Bernie supporters, for example, having applauded their candidate's speeches about rising inequality, the increasing difficulty for regular people to get by, escalating student debt, the corruption of money in politics, etc, might feel different about that.

All in all I am kind of fascinated by this question. What about A2K? When do you think America was at its greatest?

The question of course also raises the issue of what that even means. Like, would you pick a year or decade when you think Americans had the best or easiest lives? Or when there was the most hope and confidence about things getting better? Or when Americans distinguished themselves in unity and valour? It's all up to you, really.

I should add that I'm hardly the first to come up with this question. Back in April the New York Times did a whole article on it, for example, based on polling data by Morning Consult. Teaser: when respondents were forced to pick a single year, the same year "won" among Democrats and Republicans, but there were also some notable differences.
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Type: Question • Score: 29 • Views: 15,687 • Replies: 326

 
woiyo
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 10:40 am
@nimh,
Right after VE Day
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 10:50 am
@nimh,
Interesting article.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  3  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 11:08 am
@nimh,
I like where the world is going, but if I had to try to figure out America's objective peak I would say late 90's. That is when I think America's global power and influence peaked. I don't personally see this "decline" as a bad thing though, I see it as the influence of the inevitable force of globalization that is bringing billions of people out of poverty.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 11:08 am
@nimh,
I guess I can only go by my personal experience. I went to college in the mid-sixties, and graduated with a degree in Accounting. I had four job offers before I even graduated, and took the job with Florsheim Shoe Company as a Field Auditor to travel the seven western states. I was more or less my own boss, because I planned my own schedule to audit the shops. I sent my itinerary to my boss in Chicago, and pretty much kept up on my schedule. After 3.5 years, they promoted me to Audit Manager, so we had to move to Chicago. We built a beautiful brick and cedar home in Naperville, a bedroom community for people who worked in Chicago. I had to take the one hour Burlington Northern train ride into Chicago's Union Station, and our office was on the next block from the station. After 3 years, we wanted to return to California for the weather, and where our family and friends lived, so that's what we did. I worked in management for the rest of my working career, and also did consulting work. The money was good enough to retire early, so I satisfied my avocation in world travel.
I don't think that kind of opportunity now exists.
engineer
 
  8  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 11:23 am
@Robert Gentel,
Yes, 1999/2000 feels like a local peak in terms of employment, influence and general optimism. Honestly, right now seems like another peak. Sure, there are more global players than there were in '99, but employment is good, the economy is growing and technology has changed people's lives. I wouldn't give up my cell phone to have '99 back nor would I give up recent advances in civil rights.
maporsche
 
  2  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 11:36 am
Why do people think the 'peak' of a country is tied to it's employment figures?

I would NEVER equate the peak of my personal life for example to how much money I made in a particular year.
dalehileman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 11:38 am
@nimh,
Nim I think life is at its best right now, with many if not most serious diseases conquered and before we're so grossly overpop that you can't avoid stepping on someone's toes twice a day

Hope tho we can quit declaring war off and on just to keep busy

Quote:
It's all up to you
Not me I hope
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 01:20 pm
@engineer,
I feel the same way, I prefer where we are now, even if US global power is diluted (which I actually see as a good thing for the world at large).
dalehileman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 01:24 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Yea Rob
0 Replies
 
Sturgis
 
  3  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 02:00 pm
For me personally, every year has had a moment or more of being the best. Many have also had their share of moments which seemed to be the worst.

The nation as a whole can't truly have time which can be classified as the greatest, as there has always been a disenfranchised group. Every ethnicity is had to endure a period of being there and even if all others were living the comfy-womfy good life at that time, could or would these people deem it as being the supposed bestt? If one is of a religion or nonreligious holding which is being frowned upon at a given time, will they ever list it as being the yabba dabbza doo-iest best?

0 Replies
 
giujohn
 
  0  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 02:48 pm
Back before the internet, back before the 24-hour news cycle, back before cable TV, back when the Evening News was only on for 15 minutes a night, back when people actually had to read a newspaper to get most of their news, back when police officers were respected public servants and not shot on site, back when the Constitution was respected by jurists, back when colleges we're not a breeding ground for wacko leftists, back when you could leave your front door and your car unlocked, back when we had no problem identifying our enemies and knew how to put fear in their hearts, back when a citizen of the United States overseas was threatened harm by a foreign government that government felt the full weight of the US Military, back when the black community had an inspirational leader like Martin Luther King, back when America was exceptional.
maxdancona
 
  2  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 02:55 pm
@giujohn,
This all makes me laugh... but this is the funniest part.

Quote:
back when the black community had an inspirational leader like Martin Luther King


I don't think that Guijohn has a clue who Martin Luther King was. It would be funny to be there when Guijohn read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" .

Martin Luther King wrote:
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corrodingdespair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.


I am also curious if Guijohn could give us a year when he thinks he would have been happier. I bet he thought Jane Fonda was the enemy.

0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 03:05 pm
@giujohn,
You have every right to hold narrow little hateful beliefs. But if you do, you don't get to invoke Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King was an avowed enemy to people who think the way that you think. He doesn't belong to you. His writings, actions and words are too clear for you to whitewash him.

If you read much that Martin Luther King said... you would be horrified.
Finn dAbuzz
 
  3  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 03:33 pm
It's not surprising that when Americans are polled on this question:

1) Their answers, overwhelming, reside somewhere in the last 75 years
2) Their answers tend to strongly correlate with their ages. Older people tend to answer the "best time" was somewhere in the beginning of that 75 year stretch, and younger place in much later.
3) One's politics has much to do with one's answer

Apparently most people have a tough time identifying a Greatest Time if it preceded their birth. To some extent I think this is indicative of a generally poor understanding of this country's history, but I also think it's due to people not feeling comfortable with ascribing greatness to a time in which they had no experience.

It's funny because I suspect most historians of the Roman Empire would probably either agree on when Rome was at its greatest or at least narrow it down to no more than two or three time periods.

From what I can tell, it seems like the only time period prior to the last 75 years that is named with any regularity, in these polls, is the late 1700s when the nation was formed. I suppose this makes sense from an idealist's point of view but it's hard to make the case based on a comprehensive set of considerations.

A lot does depend on your point of view. There are solid arguments for the post-war era when the US economy was strong and vibrant, our security seemed to be at it's peak since we were undeniably the greatest military might in the world and the middle class really started to take off, however, I doubt that African-Americans would consider this a time of greatness for America, not only because they tended to not be reaping the rewards that followed our winning WWII, but because discrimination and rampant public and institutional racism were still firmly entrenched. There are few things sadder than the tales of African-America soldiers, sailors and airmen who served bravely and with honor during the war coming home not to a hero's welcome but to find nothing had changed for them.

America was, by several standards, pretty great in the latter years of the 19th century. We were making a very big name for ourselves in terms of industry and innovation, growth in all directions was strong and it was if the really big, and athletic kid in the class was realizing just how strong, fast and smart he actually was. But here again, you can find historical timelines for this period that detail a great number of events and actions which tarnish any title of Great.

I would be interested in a historians take on this question. One who was able to look back in time with objectivity and a comprehensive view. Also one who wasn't dedicated to proving America has always been great or never been great would be appreciated.

There has never been anywhere or at any time a utopian society and so no matter what country or empire one studies, sins will be found. If "greatness," in this realm of consideration, requires an absence of sin, then we might as well throw the word out and not bother discussing the subject.

I have to say I am amused how many folks who lean leftwards are so ready to argue for America's greatness, since Trump adopted his slogan.
farmerman
 
  3  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 03:36 pm
@Finn dAbuzz,
I think that , were I a southern Democrat, Id reminisce over Reconstruction.
Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 03:48 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:

You have every right to hold narrow little hateful beliefs. But if you do, you don't get to invoke Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King was an avowed enemy to people who think the way that you think. He doesn't belong to you. His writings, actions and words are too clear for you to whitewash him.

If you read much that Martin Luther King said... you would be horrified.



He belongs to you?
cicerone imposter
 
  2  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 03:53 pm
@maporsche,
I agree it's not related to employment figures. I think it has to do with the availability of opportunities. For my age group, I think that was in the late 50s and early 60s.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  4  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 03:57 pm
I pick the 1960s because the Peace and Civil Rights Movements had a legitimate shot at changing the direction we were going. That both failed has been a driving force in the politics I follow these days.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  3  
Reply Thu 8 Sep, 2016 04:39 pm
@cicerone imposter,
C.I., thank you for that personal story. I think there's a lot of millennials who feel that way, that the kind of economic security and material confidence in the future that you describe doesn't exist anymore, at least not for the average person. Not that we'd go back to the days before Internet and, say, gay rights, but there's a certain nostalgia and resentment about that. I mean, I don't know if millennial is the right word - like, I have no idea what 18-24 year olds think. But I've heard it a lot, over the years, from people ranging in age from late twenties to my generation, mid-40s (and I certainly feel it myself, when I compare my generation with that of my parents). At least you get it a fair bit from West-Europeans; obviously looking back a couple of generations here in Hungary involves its own minefields.
 

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