America and the Americans

This distinction appeared early in the 19th Century, when America become urban and industrialized. Before, there had been only one type of American – farmer, although, in the South there were slave-owning Planters that produced tobacco for, and bought manufactured goods from, an overseas market – mainly English.

This distinction was personified by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. George Washington tried to moderate between them – but eventually presided over the American Constitutional Convention that made the United States happen.

Thomas Jefferson, who was in France at the time – came back, became involved in American politics – thereby making himself powerful, and fathered children by one of his slaves, at the same time.

The new kind of American was typified by Andrew Jackson, very much a self-made man – who, without knowing it – made possible the formation of many new kinds of Americans. He made them respectable by his own example.

And this new respectability was celebrated by Walt Whitman. Who made the Common Man not only respectable – but almost divine.

This was a new idea – but one Americans (all kinds of Americans) took as their own. I might as well state it here:

No matter how incompetent you are, you are basically perfect!

To this day, Americans believe this – and believe this completely. When I was working in Silicon Valley, in the Nineties – I saw all kinds of destructive craziness going on. But everyone was saying “Nothing bad is going on!”

Nothing bad could happen, because they were so good!

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