The Soul of America

I am reading an intriguing book, “The Soul of America,” by Jon Meacham. I am a fan of Meacham, having read most of his other works. This book is an overview of American leadership, mostly from our Presidents, as we battle to find our better angels, which is the subtitle of the book.

In it, Meacham explores some of the racism and extremism that have influenced our politics as we strive to form a more perfect union. As an astute historian, he looks back at past leadership and explores how their approach to government influenced the public dialogue and either moved the country forward or dragged it back a few steps.

One section that jumped out at me, and is currently in our public square is the juxtaposition between the politics of fear, versus the politics of hope. He states:

“Those who are frightened of losing what they have are the most vulnerable to fear, and it is difficult to be clear-headed when you believe that you are teetering on a precipice…….The opposite of fear is hope, defined as the expectation of good fortune not only for ourselves but for the group to which we belong. Fear feeds anxiety and produces anger; hope, particularly in a political sense, breeds optimism and feelings of well-being. Fear is about limits, hope is about growth. Fear casts its eyes warily, even shiftily, across the landscape; hope looks forward, toward the horizon. Fear points at others, assigning blame, hope points ahead, working for a common good. Fear pushes away; hope pulls others closer. Fear divides, hope unifies.”

In a summary of how hope and fear have been put into play by political leaders Meacham states:

“The measure of our political and cultural health cannot be whether we agree on all things at all times. We don’t, and won’t. Disagreement and debate-including ferocious disagreement and exhausting debate-are hallmarks of American politics. As Jefferson noted, divisions of opinions have defined free societies since the days of Greece and Rome. The art of politics lies in the manufacturing of a workable consensus for a given time-not unanimity. This is an art, not a science.”

There is no question that our current political leadership have been using fear as they govern. Meacham points out that no great political perspectives have ever advanced the collective good with these tactics. The shift from fear to hope looks to be the critical path as America looks to build a more perfect union.