“In our finest hours, though, the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists.” Jon Meacham,The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels
President-Elect Joe Biden characterized the race for the presidency as being much more than vying for the highest office in our land. He said that the election was for the soul of America Many agreed. What was it that made this year’s election so distinctive?
The 2020 presidential election was quite possibly the most divisive one since the Civil War. The ideology of Republicans and Democrats could hardly have been more diametrically opposed to each other. The tone of the election pitted ham-fistedness against diplomacy. While Trump stuck with his usual in-your-face style of campaigning which lent itself to easy criticism, the Biden-Harris team was susceptible to being accused of Washington establishment politics-as-usual.
For the most part, Republicans stuck to the “America First/Keep America Great” theme and made declarations that incited some of their followers to violence and convinced many that the election is invalid. Through their philosophy and tactics, Democrats seized advantage of the full-on assault by taking the high road, sometimes pandering to the left, emphasizing unity, compromise, and strengthening international alliances.
So, on one hand voters could align themselves with a party that preached reaching across the aisle, or one that proclaimed a form of isolationist nationalism. And that’s where the soul of America comes in.
Similar to a spiritual definition of the soul, the soul of a nation consists of those closely held beliefs and values that define a nation and displays its character. The Declaration of Independence constructed an outline for these values in its second paragraph, beginning with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” As corny as some may find it, the soul of America really does have to do with freedom, the establishment and protection of rights, and unity. These values are intended to lift oppression and raise the spirits of the people. This may well be the litmus test for whether something is truly American or not. Does it do away with persecution? Does it raise up the hearts of the people?
Cruelty, violence, and oppression are associated with tyranny, divisiveness, and darkness. Cooperation, negotiation, and compassion are associated with liberty, unity, and light. One need not be a bully to make a country great—especially when, by all human standards, that nation is already great. In fact, a bully leader is antithetical to the very nature of a country like America.
Will the Biden-Harris administration bulldoze us in the opposite direction that the Trump-Pence administration did? We shall see, but it is unlikely. They have set the bar high by making verbal commitments to healing the nation. But whether one bulldozes to the left or bulldozes to the right, bulldozing is at least in part destructive.
While destruction is sometimes necessary for rebuilding, the challenge is to take down the things that divide in a way that invites the opposition to be an active part of a disassembling and rebuilding of that which speaks to the heart of the nation. If the Biden-Harris administration is to help heal these somewhat divided states of America, they absolutely must take a strong stance by wielding a sword of peace rather than a sword of death. Like a skilled surgeon, they must carefully excise the cancers that kill while maintaining the health of the rest of the country. They must also replace the tumor with healthy tissue, for to remove illness and not place health in its place is to invite the cancer to return with a vengeance.
I submit that, while the soul of America is battered and bruised, she has shown the brightness of her being through the 2020 Presidential election. She remains. She endures. She triumphs. She stands ready to once more be a beacon of light and life and hope to the teeming masses.
“Intellectually I know America is no better than any other country; emotionally I know she is better than every other country.” Sinclair Lewis
Singer-songwriter, columnist, psychotherapist, spiritual advisor. Lives in Oxford, MS, the home of many best-selling authors including, most notably, Nobel Laureate William Faulkner.