Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Jon Meacham's 'The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels' (2018), Part I

Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. New York: Random House, 2018.

A thoughtful overview and discussion that helps put crazy times in perspective. Well-documented. 

In the introduction, Meacham brings up Richard Hofstadter's concept of "the paranoid style in American politics," a phenomenon even more widespread in 2018 than it was in 1963. There is always grand conspiracy, the End Times approach! "Time is forever running out." (page 17)

Just a few days ago, I came across a perfect example of the paranoid style in American society: TV evangelist Jim Bakker (born January 2, 1940), now broadcasting from Branson, Missouri. 

Jim continues to shriek about the End Times, but meanwhile, audience, send lots of money, buy containers of dried food, buy books and recordings. 

It doesn't add up. Bakker claims that Christians are persecuted and suppressed in the USA, even while he continues broadcasting away, one of legions of dedicated channels that spotlight tax-free Trump-supporting Christian evangelicals. 

Bakker's show is a perfect combination of paranoid, crazy, greedy and delusional, and somehow it's also crudely entertaining.

In The Soul of America, Meacham provides plenty of excellent quotations. Here's a snippet of Ike Eisenhower: "you do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it's usually called 'assault' - not 'leadership' . . . I'll tell you what leadership is. It's persuasion -- and conciliation -- and education -- and patience. It's long, slow, tough work." (page 39). 

From Robert Penn Warren: "a crazy man is a large-scale menace only in a crazy society." (page 53).  That's Trump in a tiny American nutshell.

One of the most perceptive of American thinkers that Meacham cites is Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), who comes across as more 21st century than 19th century in his outlook. Douglass' analysis of Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln within an American context is brilliant. 

The current president, thinking Douglass still among the living, claimed early last year that "Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice."

Early on Douglass came to understand the value of reading and learning -- a good role model for all. Meacham gets it, too, even if a man named Trump never will. 

Today's Rune: Wholeness.    

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