The French writer J. Hector St. John de Crevecouer was one of the first, in his Letters from an American Farmer (1782), to ask the question "What is an American?" and then try and define it. It is still a question that is with us. Crevecouer came to the colonies, worked as a farmer, and wrote the letters in the guise of an American farmer named James. Initially, he is impressed and encouraged by what he sees as the American spirit: hard work, independence, and freedom from the hierarchy, monarchy, and aristocracy of his native France.
Yet Crevecouer was not naïve, and he saw the enslavement of black people as a stain on the nation. He gives a particularly brutal description of a slave's look. When the Revolution began, he saw the polarization of the country and the resulting violence. In his piece for The New Republic, Alan Taylor discusses some of the problems that Crevecouer saw in the emerging democracy and thinks this aspect of his legacy is overlooked.
Certainly, the tension in American democracy between idealism and reality continues to be strong. Racism, for example, remains a major problem. Inequality is also still a major problem, even though Crevecouer, perhaps naively, saw America as a place where every man was equal and would be left to do with his own land as he saw fit. There was inequality from the beginning. Men without money or property, women, and slaves were not allowed to vote, and women, people of color, and enslaved people had severely limited rights in comparison to free white men.
Another problem that continues to be part of America is the political polarization. Crevecouer identified this trend starting when the loyalists clashed with the revolutionaries. A later split would occur between the Federalists and Republicans. We still have this split between parties and throughout the country.