Hi, everyone! I’m AP correspondent Jay Reeves based in Birmingham, Alabama, and I’ve been talking to Americans about their definitions of greatness. In an election year when Donald Trump is promising to “make America great again,” and when Hillary Clinton says America “has never stopped being great,” colleague Robin McDowell and I, and a number of other AP journalists, turned to a diverse range of Americans to see what they think.

Here’s our story on the subject: http://bigstory.ap.org/1c5fc1979dfa43919f32b98beb13843e

Here’s where you can hear, on video, from some of the people we met, and also access other parts of the project: http://interactives.ap.org/2016/divided-america/?story=america-great

And here’s my proof: https://twitter.com/Jay_Reeves/status/740927715050696704

Ask me anything -- about this project, what we learned, who we met or anything else.

EDIT: OK, we’re done. Thanks for all the great questions. Tomorrow, my colleague Rachel Zoll, an AP religion writer, will host another AMA looking at how evangelicals feel increasingly marginalized in America. You’ll find it here at /r/IAmA. Should be good. Here’s her story: http://bigstory.ap.org/705be97dd9924d3c90f51532c2a99515

Comments: 313 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

Gld4neer91 karma

How much responsibility do you think the media deserves for deepening divisions in the country?

AP_Jay_Reeves19 karma

The polarization of the media - different news sources for different viewpoints - seems to be a problem to me.

greenirishsaint54 karma

In this clip of The Newsroom, Jeff Daniel's character details how America is not the greatest country anymore, do you agree or disagree with his statement or response?

GlassDarkly12 karma

Yes, please! Even if our view of ourselves is revisionist history, we can aspire to be what we feel we were, or always should be. It seems to me that it's clear what America should be, but I don't feel that we are.

"We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy."

I'm sure that no one will doubt that we've never been good at doing things for "moral reasons", but we all know that we should. Why can't we be the America that that we know that we want to be, or should be?

AP_Jay_Reeves-3 karma

Some people I interviewed talked about a great nation being one that does the right things. Now you can get into a pretty good discussion of what the "right things" are ...

AP_Jay_Reeves-52 karma

It's been a long time since I saw that clip, and I don't have time to watch it now. Sorry ...

nano_wulfen49 karma

How do YOU define a great nation? Also has your definition changed over the course of this project?

AP_Jay_Reeves-56 karma

My dad survived the Depression and dozens of missions aboard a B-26 bomber during WWII, then went on to build a good, peaceful life for himself and our family. I can't help but think of his generation when I think of a great nation.

ehp2943 karma

In his commencement address to Rutgers, Obama challenged Trump indirectly, essentially saying that the "great" part of the past he's looking back on was really only great if you were part of a defined narrative of privilege - a middle class straight white male, essentially. Did any of the people you interviewed express that for them, perhaps the past Trump refers to was not as rosy because of prejudice?

AP_Jay_Reeves38 karma

That was absolutely a response we received, and more than once. For some, the "good old days" weren't so good.

ehp296 karma

Any particular examples?

AP_Jay_Reeves36 karma

There are several examples in the videos here: http://interactives.ap.org/2016/divided-america/. Here's a quote from Craig House, a 32-year-old man living in St. Louis: "America has always been great, just not for me and my people. For us it's been the worst ever. People come from all over the world, Arabs own this, that. Black man don't own nothing."

albacore_futures19 karma

How much did you find that socio-economic factors contribute to people's responses? Did you find that one group favored certain responses (for example, say a strong military) more than another?

I could see the answer to "what makes a country great?" being very different when asked to someone without a job and with poor prospects versus somebody on Wall Street versus somebody enrolled in college.

AP_Jay_Reeves7 karma

We didn't always get party affiliation or even a great sense of people's financial status, so it's impossible to be precise. But people struggling in their lives (job loss, big debt, etc.) didn't seem to think things were going so well. On the other hand, neither did people who are perfectly comfortable and don't like the idea of change.

fencerman13 karma

Do you feel the "disgust" people have with politics is just a thinly-veiled substitute for the fact that they simply can't compromise with each other?

All the examples of policy directions highlighted by your interviewees are fundamentally at odds with each other and aren't compatible at all, yet none of them seems to realize their point of view is controversial, and instead pretend their ideas are common sense that the politicians somehow don't recognize.

AP_Jay_Reeves8 karma

People sound very fed up with the system, from DC to their own towns. It's like, 'I could fix this problem, why can't they?" And yeah: Don't we often see our own ideas as being the right ones?

fencerman5 karma

So is the problem politics, or is the problem the people themselves?

Politicians are certainly guilty of pandering to the ideas people have about their ideas being common sense that the rest of the world is just too dumb or corrupt to see, but I don't think that's sufficient evidence to say politicians are the source of that mentality.

Some politicians - and honestly, you have to give Hillary credit for this - do acknowledge that compromise happens, people aren't only going to get everything they want, and we have to be mature adults about picking realistic priorities. And they get crucified and hated more than anyone for it.

AP_Jay_Reeves4 karma

The problem seems to be politics and the people. But how do you separate the two?

Victinev13 karma

Would you rather fight 100 Hillary Clinton sized Bernie Sanders or 1 Donald Trump sized Hillary Clinton?

AP_Jay_Reeves5 karma

I've been in exactly two fights in my lifetime: One when I was about 10 and another playing ice hockey. I've given up fighting.

Dan_Of_Time7 karma

One when I was about 10

Who won?

AP_Jay_Reeves8 karma

It was a draw - we each got a punch in. Nothing accomplished, basically.

rbevans7 karma

What do you believe was the most interesting or shocking find during this investigation?

AP_Jay_Reeves5 karma

Many people were very positive about America, perhaps more than I expected. No one was happy with everything that's going on, but I didn't have anyone express the idea that all is lost.

kingofthe2hole5 karma

How did people feel about the fact that one of the candidates hasn't held a press conference where questions were allowed this entire year?

AP_Jay_Reeves2 karma

Nobody mentioned that. Sorry.

IAMAVelociraptorAMA4 karma

There has been a general anti-journalism sentiment in America recently. The New York Times recently announced that you would either have to pay or view ads, and would clamp down on ad-blockers. People responded by saying they would simply not view the news if they couldn't get it for free and without ads.

They justified it with multiple thin excuses but it all eventually boiled down to they want journalism for free, without having to pay for it, but they also want high-quality investigative journalism like they see in a film like Spotlight.

How do you suggest we tackle the hypocrisy of the general public when it comes to the double standards in how they treat members of the media?

AP_Jay_Reeves4 karma

That's a tough one. I'd be running something if I could come up with a good answer quickly ...

lost_in_life_343 karma

have you considered that both are marketing themselves like every other presidential candidate has done in the past?

AP_Jay_Reeves4 karma

If you mean Trump and Clinton (or other candidates), sure. But to me, things somehow seem different this time around.

Swagmuffins943 karma

Do you think that the Internet and the rise of multiple outlets for information has led to the increased polarization in our country?

I have seen many people sticking to news sources that further their own ideology and I think creates an online groupthink mentality.

AP_Jay_Reeves4 karma

Yes, I think we're more polarized because of the exact thing you cited. It's too easy to avoid listening to others' viewpoints.

AP_Jay_Reeves6 karma

One of the topics of an upcoming Divided America story is the role of the media in all this. So look for that.

apparentdig1183 karma

How did you get your start in journalism, and would you recommend it as a career?

AP_Jay_Reeves2 karma

I went to journalism school, worked at a couple of newspapers and have been with AP for 30+ years. I love it, but the media landscape is so challenging today .... I'll just leave it at that.

CaptCurmudgeon2 karma

Have you felt any pressure to alter your story to fit a narrative?

AP_Jay_Reeves1 karma


W0LF_JK2 karma

Thanks for the AMA Mr. Reeves.

In your opinion what is the purpose of journalism?

AP_Jay_Reeves1 karma

To inform. To tell people what's going on in the world.

Imeilujop2 karma

Why do most of Europe see Americans as 'the bad guys' or the 'villains' nowadays? I'm European and it seems like all people around me, no matter the nationality or their financial status or whatever, suddenly 'hate america'. Why?

AP_Jay_Reeves5 karma

I've lived in America my whole life, only venturing to Europe, Latin America, etc., on trips. I really can't answer that.

voltism2 karma

Would you say there's a division between races in their answers? Do some races, or maybe recent immigrants, view things differently?

AP_Jay_Reeves6 karma

Several black people expressed the idea that America wasn't great for them or their families in the past because of segregation and associated laws and social standards.

GenitalDiddler1 karma

Was the most common answer from Americans that it takes being America to be a great nation? Because that's my answer.

AP_Jay_Reeves4 karma

People talked about getting back to the foundation of America, so maybe?

samwise09121 karma

On a personal level, what is your favorite movie of all time?

AP_Jay_Reeves5 karma

"The Blues Brothers" is hard to beat. I'll watch it every time I flip across it on TV.

Refso0 karma

A nation where people are arguing about weather or not it needs to be made great again or not is not a nation that is truly great. My definition of a great nation: A peaceful, diverse, tolerant, and equal society that focuses it's efforts of making the people within it's borders feel like they are just as good as the other guy. A nation that the education budget is smaller than the military's , where it isn't hated by the world, where they don't exploit the world, where its own people don't hate it. That is my definition, now my question: How can we fix this? What can we do as a society to make our nation fit this definition? What steps need to be taken? What needs to change?

AP_Jay_Reeves3 karma

Many people think of the 1960s as a horrible time, but an old black musician in NOLA told me that was the greatest time because the US finally addressed racial inequality, gender inequality, poverty, and such. Sort of like you talk about here.

Thecorbin-5 karma

Hey Jay, Do you think its possible for a nation to be great and yet have statues built to people that raped 14 year old slaves and maintained them in bondage, and those that had a half-billion dollars, but maintained slaves because they didn't want to pay paltry servant's wages? (talking about Jefferson and Washington). Did "lack of brainwashing" come up as a requisite for a great nation? Thanks for sharing btw! Edit: Changed "poultry" to "paltry" once my coffee kicked in - thanks for the response, I look forward to reading your work on my break - cheers!

AP_Jay_Reeves1 karma

The nation's past - the sorts of thing you mention - plays into the present for many people. Others put all that completely out of mind. There's a duality there, for sure.