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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,934
September 13, 2018
The Soul of America - Part 1 of 3
By Mike McManus

The presidency of Donald Trump is a mobilization of alienated whites. As David Duke, former KKK grand wizard, put it in Charlottesville, "We are determined to take our country back."

However, Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has written a powerful new book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. In it he declares, "The good news is that we have come through such darkness before."

Usually, the leadership of an American president "can lift us to higher ground." If a particular President moves us backward, "then those who witness, protest and resist must stand fast, in hope, working for a better day," Meacham asserts.

The Soul of America is exactly the book America needs to read today.

"Across too many generations, women, African Americans, immigrants and others have been denied the full promise of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence," he states.

Yet there are heroes in American history who should inspire us in these discouraging days. An opening quote is from Abraham Lincoln, from his First Inaugural Address, uttered weeks before the Civil War began: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield...all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Meacham argues that "The message of Martin Luther King, Jr. - that we should be judged on the content of our character, not on the color of our skin, dwells in the American soul." Indeed, it does. Sadly, so does the Ku Klux Klan. History hangs in the balance.

"Our fate is contingent upon which element - that of hope or fear - emerges triumphant," Meacham asserts.

He asks, "What is the American soul?" His answer is a "belief in the proposition, as Jefferson put it in the Declaration, that all men are created equal...We cannot not guarantee equal outcomes, but we must "do all we can to ensure equal opportunity."

As Meacham asserts, in our finest hours, "the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists."

Thomas Paine declared, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

On the battlefield of Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke about democracy and equality: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

He said the task of the present generation was to ensure "that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Fifteen months later, in his second Inaugural, Lincoln continued to call upon our better angels from four years earlier: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God give us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."

During the 1932 campaign, Franklin Roosevelt said the Presidency is not merely an administrative office, but is "pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified."

Harry Truman, who defeated segregationist Strom Thurmond, Progressive Henry Wallace and Republican Thomas Dewey for president in 1948, asserted, "You have to appeal to people's best instincts, not their worst ones."

Lyndon Johnson, a southerner who became president after the assassination of John Kennedy, was determined to pass the Civil Rights Act proposed by Kennedy. He recalled, "I knew that as President and as a man, I would use every ounce of strength I possess to gain justice for the black American...I had not been elected to that office. But I recognized that the moral force of the Presidency is often stronger than the political force."

"I knew that a President can appeal to the best in our people or the worst. He can call for action or live with inaction."

Don Meacham asserts, "To hear such voices is to be reminded of what we have lost, but also what can one day be recaptured."

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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