Americans haven’t changed much in 180 years

The featured image in this post is not of an American; rather, it is a sketch made of Charles Dickens during a visit to “the Republic of (his) imagination,” a journey that prompted him to describe the core behaviors and attitudes of Americans, behaviors and attitudes–especially when it comes to politics and the media–that apparently have not changed much in 180 years!

A sketch of Charles Dickens
made during his visit to America in 1842

In Charles Dickens Had Serious Beef with America and Its Bad Manners by Samantha Silva, she notes that Dickens found Americans to be “malodorous (and) ill-mannered” individuals who had no qualms about invading his privacy. He complained to a friend in a letter that “I am so enclosed and hemmed about with people, that I am exhausted from want of air. I go to church for quiet, and there is a violent rush to the neighborhood of the pew I sit in. I take my seat in a railroad car, and the very conductor won’t leave me alone. I can’t drink a glass of water without having a hundred people looking down my throat.”

He was repulsed by Americans’ table manners and the tobacco spit everywhere he looked, even on the sidewalks of the nation’s capital, where he found party politics contaminating everything. He considered party leaders to be “the lice of God’s creation,” and noted that there was “despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; and cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers.”

The past 6+ years have been rife with politicians’ and their followers’ “cowardly attacks upon opponents,” none of which may be as odious as today’s Donald Trump Jr’s disgusting and vile tweet showing a hammer placed on underpants lying on bedsheets with the caption: “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”

That tweet, anyone who thinks it is funny, or anyone who is not outraged by it are all prima facie evidence that Dickens’ observations of Americans 180 years ago remain accurate for millions of Americans today. Donald Junior’s tweet is a cowardly and childish attack that precisely mirrors the behaviors of his father and of the followers that encourage such behaviors.

Donald Trump Jr.

In American Notes for General Circulation, Dicken’s scathing travelogue published after returning to England, Dickens blasted America as a scam on a national scale. Silva notes that “instead of a democratic land of opportunity, he described a land of opportunists—a nation of self-interested grubbers who cared only for politics and money—pretending at liberty and equality while condoning slavery, and a press ‘pimping and pandering for all degrees of vicious taste, and gorging with coined lies.’” Silva continues, “For good measure, he tossed in that nowhere else on the whole earth was there a nation of ‘so many intensified bores’ entirely unable to laugh at themselves.”

After writing American Notes upon his return to England, Dickens wrote and published Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), which Silva notes contained “a wicked satire” of America that afforded Dickens “the chance to show Americans slurping, spitting, and guzzling, and, most boorish of all, licking the communal butter knife.”


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