Reporter's Notebook

When Is America at Its Best?
Show Description +

In the immediate wake of November’s election, The Atlantic spoke to people out and about in Manhattan to learn how they define America. What are the country’s strengths? When is America at its best? Tourists, natives, and immigrants, from the High Line to Harlem—everyone had a different answer.

Show 3 Newer Notes

‘I Don't Know If We've Been at Our Best Ever’


Mike Puckett, 26, Comedian
Lives in Brooklyn

I don’t know if we’ve been at our best ever. Well, maybe the past eight years, I guess I’d say, because we had a president most people (that I know) were excited about. I know that means I live in a bubble, to some extent. But also because even though we have a lot of problems we’ve become more aware of them, and at least started a lot of dialogues that I don't think were being had otherwise.


Kevin Hines, 52, Kite Flyer
Lives in Midtown, Manhattan

I don’t mean to go off on America, but in order for America to really be America, we say “the land of the free, home of the brave.” A lot of people in America don’t feel free. They don’t feel like America is with them and it shouldn’t be like that. We should embrace each other. Our differences are just what they are: differences. But we are all the same, in our own unique ways.


Ollie Corchado, 26, Actor and Courier
Lives in Washington Heights, Manhattan

During the Olympics this past year, I feel like everybody just loved everybody. We were just like, “yes, we are on top, man.” We got Michael Phelps and Simone Biles just kicking ass, and like doing awesome. Everybody just loved everybody. I think that’s when America’s at its best. When everybody focuses on the positives, and not so much on the negatives. There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens, but if we just focus on the positives I really think that’s when we get things going. You don’t quit, you don’t give up. And even if you lose, the idea is you pick yourself back up. That’s the big American quality that I think is cool.


Zarmina Amin, 30, Doctor
Lives in Miami, Florida; originally from Pakistan

Everything’s always been great. We’re welcoming, we’re honest, and everybody here is very hardworking. I’m an American and I love this place. I hope that Donald Trump proves to be a good president, which I don’t doubt that he will be, and everything goes for the best for our country.


Brittany Grey, 28, Social Entrepreneur
Lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn

I definitely think we’re at our best when we’re just working together and really just trying to be more understanding, rather than fighting everybody to have the same beliefs as us. Because we have to have understanding. I don’t feel that the people who voted for Trump are necessarily bad people, but there’s something deep down that we don’t understand about them and they don’t understand about us, so there’s gotta be some type of dialogue for us to come together.


Lewis Long, 51, Art Gallery Owner
Lives in Harlem, Manhattan

I think America is at its best when it really values the vast differences of its people and when it provides opportunities for those people. We’re at a pivotal time in our country. Demographics are changing. I think structurally, our economy is changing. There is less labor required to do the work that’s been done. And so, there are a lot of people that are fearful.

I think it’s going to be a difficult year. I think there are going to be convulsions from approaches that are nontraditional, from leadership that has been polarizing and hasn’t really made efforts to kind of resolve some raw feelings. I think that it’s a big unknown, but at the end of the day I think that the spirit of the American people, you know, it’s resilient. I think that ultimately our democracy is strong enough to overwhelm any type of behavior. I think in the short term it may feel like a setback. But I think in the long term it will galvanize, mobilize people, and will make us a stronger people, a stronger country.