A Great Country

Governor Cuomo has spent recent days walking back a comment he made in a speech last week that America “…was never that great.”

In trying to show his opposition to all things Trump, Cuomo had gone too far, insulting those who take pride in our country’s accomplishments. It’s impossible to imagine such a sentiment having crossed the lips of previous generations of progressive politicians like, to pick a not-so-random example, Mario Cuomo. The son lacks the father’s deftness – and his judgement.

Besides being politically foolish, the younger Cuomo’s comment was wrong by any conceivable objective measure. Our country has long led the world  in science, to say nothing of having created wealth far beyond the dreams of previous generations, or of having played essential roles in defeating some of the 20th century’s worst tyrannies. How and why have we done these things?  I would argue by carrying high the torch of individual liberty – but that’s an argument for another post. For this one, suffice it for me to write that we have done them.

That we are not, never have been and can never be, perfect goes without saying. Americans, no less and no more than others, are born with original sin and all too frequently act accordingly. But ours is and has always been a land that people fight to come to rather than to flee, and that’s the simplest measure of our greatness.


I went on a 60 mile bicycle ride with a friend this morning. The air was cool and fresh, the traffic light, the pace moderate and conversation flowed like a mostly gentle river. We talked about many things, beginning with stories about our extended families.

One thing that emerged from my descriptions of my siblings’ lives and predilections was an understanding on my friend’s part that by and large their political leanings are in direct opposition to the ones that I regularly set forth on this site. Mine is a large and loving family with an exceptional diversity of career paths, life choices and political preferences. We never let our disagreements – about which we are raucously, even joyously, open – get in the way of an appreciation of the things we have in common.

Another cycling friend once memorably commented that the America that we see while out riding is very different from and much friendlier than the bitterly divided nation that we see and read about in the media. The same, I might add, is true of what I used to see at work – with people of all backgrounds, income and education levels working together harmoniously – and of the people I have worked with in my charitable endeavors. My involvement with Harlem Academy had me walking alone through a challenged neighborhood, to and from the subway, sometimes late at night, for many years. Never once did I feel in the least bit threatened by those to whom I was (no doubt obviously) an outsider.

Most Americans, in my experience, are just trying to move themselves and their families forward. They live within the lines. Some don’t, of course, but the vast majority do.

I have seen innumerable friendships – and acts of generosity and love – among people of different races, faiths, education levels, economic circumstances and, it almost goes without saying, political loyalties. Most are, like my siblings, accepting of these differences, however heartfelt the tribal and other loyalties may be.

Our media stress divisions and strife along all those fault lines. Good news isn’t considered newsworthy. Politicians – like Mario’s maladroit son – play to their crowds, competing to show just how fervently they can show fealty to the most extreme of their supporters.

But out in the real world, we mostly get along. We have our disagreements, of course, and that is exactly what should be expected of free people. We get along in spite of the disagreements and frequently help those with whom we differ.

And that says something nice about our country. Great, even.


M.H. Johnston

4 comments to A Great Country

  • Anonymous  says:

    This is one of your best!

    • Dennis Paine  says:

      I would hasten to second this!

  • KH  says:

    The way our president may make America even greater is by bringing the point you make in this essay forward from both sides of the aisle.

  • Doug  says:

    Nothing I can disagree with here. Nice posting.

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