Is America great?

By Reade Brower | May 14, 2020

What is greatness? Is it measured by economic metrics, or is it something you see and feel? When we think about ourselves and our country, can we love our country and consider ourselves patriotic while also understanding we have failures preventing us from being truly great?

It was in 1983, when traveling abroad, that American values visited my psyche for the first time. Meeting Americans with Canadian patches on their backpacks, learning they wanted to disassociate themselves from the loud obnoxious reputation Americans had earned over the years, based on boorish behavior (if someone was loud and rude in a youth hostel, breaking curfew, or having had too much to drink, it was probably an American).

Each country had its reputation, but no other country got the label of obnoxious and full of themselves like Americans. The Germans were polite, well-schooled, and interesting (although they could be a close second to Americans with the drinking and loud behavior). The French a little aloof, but respectful and stayed out of your business. The best were the Aussies and Canadians. Canadians were just plain nice. Aussies were just plain fun; because of the distance to Europe, they would usually be on road trips for up to a year, so they were comfortable in their own skin, funny, adventurous, and generous.

Six years earlier, while on a junior year exchange program from UMass to University of Hawaii in Hilo, American values were also on display. One night, my Hawaiian roommates threw a party. In the bathtub was beer on ice. At the end of the night, a bunch of mainlander exchange students left the party, grabbing multiple beers for their walk home and after-party. My roommates were appalled; normally good-natured braddahs, they couldn’t get their arms around how my mainland friends thought it OK to brazenly take their beer.

They said, “You aren’t one of them brah, you respect our ways.” That hit the nail on the head; I was born for the big island; no shoes the rule in our apartment — no problem as the pads of my feet would develop and become like cured leather. My American friends thought that because Hawaii was part of the United States, they could wear their shoes inside and Hawaiians could “like it or lump it.”

That attitude hasn’t changed; we have an arrogant president leading an arrogant movement that puts America on a pedestal and trades on brute power, demanding a front row seat, without regard to our neighbors.

Power and respect are two different animals; power brings respect but it doesn’t bring love and that is what makes a person or country great. When we are loved, we are happy. That seems to be missing and a value Americans haven’t grasped in my 45-year history of adulthood.

Boasting about how great we are doesn’t make us so, Mr. President. It is what we do, not what we say, that people around the world judge us on. When you look at “happiness” of countries, the United States is in the middle of the pack because we do not believe a “rising tide raises all ships.” Instead, we operate on the principle that the “rich get richer” with the strongest getting the biggest pieces of pie, leaving crumbs for the rest.

We are not awful people; we are by and large great people with values that include kindness and an appreciation for love. However, that doesn’t manifest itself when our brand of capitalism is without restrictions or regulations. That encourages greed, leading to citizens thinking their candles burn brighter when others are dimmed. That premise is not true; a candle burns brightest when other candles around it are lit — it is a state of mind that many do not embrace.

When Maine Gov. Janet Mills took over the Blaine House, many saw a breath of fresh air. No longer is Maine run by a governor who had no tolerance for tolerance. Mainers now have a chance to see what it looks like to be guided by a person with empathy, who cares about all citizens of Maine.

Do you believe we are respected by other nations? Curiosity takes us behind the curtains unlike bravado or a false sense of self that derives from a value system built on anything other than kindness, faith, and concern for others that gets deeply rooted in our DNA.

As this pandemic shows, we are “in this together” but we are not “in the same boat.” With three children, the belief in “fair” used to be about giving them all the same edge and opportunities. Then, someone explained this idea of “same is fair” was misguided; “fair” is an ideology of giving people what they need.

Do our society's values meet people where they are at? Could it really be that simple?


“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power.” — P.J. Rourke, writer (b. 1947)

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at
Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 14, 2020 16:42

We's on the winnin' side!

Was just thinking. It isn't the disease that is getting us, it is the dis-ease of those supposed to be in leadership who keep throwing mixed messages at us.

Look at last year here in Maine: Equine encephalitis, brown tail moth caterpillars, lime disease from ticks. We all did what we needed to do and got through it. This is piece of cake compared to that. Ask someone with Lime disease if you don't think so.

We will get through this and we will do it together; while not allowing those who want to confuse and divide succeed. They ain't nothin compared to old Yankee gumption. I learned  in 12 step recovery: FEAR and FAITH can't occupy the same space. .

We is on the winnin' side folks and need to remember that. You remind me and I will remind you.  ;)

If you wish to comment, please login.