To what extent does Paine's characterization of America hold true today?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It can be argued that very few of Thomas Paine's characterizations of Americans in Rights of Man hold true today. Of course, there are exceptions in that he speaks “of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms of government, speaking different languages, different in their modes of worship.” It's true that America is made up of people from many countries, who have various religious beliefs, who still abide by their native customs, but immigration and the laws surrounding it are currently topics of debate and division in contemporary American culture.

He speaks of a united front that the United States stands for. As the America of Paine’s era grew geographically, areas of liberal acceptance were established, as were those of Evangelical Conservatism. Yet, we do see glimmers of unification; when tragedy strikes Americans do put up a united front and provide support during times of both manmade and natural disasters.

Another point that Paine attempts to make is that “the rich are not privileged and their taxes are few.” In the United States, the rich are privileged and do enjoy tax advantages that elude middle and lower income earners. If you observe the lifestyle of the upper one percent of American earners, you will see lavish living conditions that the rest of society cannot envision. It is this group that generally supports the political machines that bring forth the candidates for political offices. It is rare to find a politician of any substance who rises from the lower classes; government corruption exists, yet we are still led to believe in the American dream that Thomas Paine espouses.

Therefore, there are inklings of the America that Thomas Paine wrote about. But though the utopia he espoused does not exist, the theories behind his work are understandable to most Americans.