If the word “soul” speaks of what is deepest and truest within us, what is our national soul at its core?
I’m one of those who see the political landscape as a fight for the soul of our nation. I’ve been praying for our democracy for more than two years now, and at last I’m seeing some hopeful signs that we might actually awake from this nightmare, survive Trump and Trump-ism, and begin to repair the damage done. But the battle isn’t over yet by any means.
I’ve been thinking about the phrase that has been circulating through the democratic (small d) populace: “We’re better than this.” I like to think so. Certainly our aspirations as Americans are an ideal that gives credence to those words. But as I think back over our history I see that we have not (at least not always, nor often enough) been better than this. For instance, every wave of new immigrants has been met by vilification and discrimination (and often violence), until gradually they assimilated and a new wave came in. The worst that we have been — building prosperity through the enslavement and abuse of kidnapped peoples – remains a lingering legacy and an indelible stain on our character. That legacy remains as the shadowed underbelly of our life today.
In light of all that, I believe that the right thing to be saying at this time of crisis in our nation’s history is not “we’re better than this,” but “We can do better. We can become better.”
What marks us uniquely as Americans is the very fact of our aspirations. All the foreigners whom I’ve heard or read, in reflecting on our character from beyond our borders, have singled out as a core aspect of our culture that we always aspire to be better. And we have moved (perhaps not steadily, but slowly over the long haul) to achieve a better character. We still have a long way to go.
It took a bloody, terrible war to move us beyond slavery, which still leaves a lingering scent of sin in our life. Prejudice still rises up to vilify and harass those who look, worship, or behave differently than “we” do. And somehow, a significant swathe of our electorate (not a majority, but enough; too many by far) have recently voted against our best heritage and aspirations. Too many have been willing to see our democratic institutions attacked, have abandoned their principles and remained willfully ignorant in pursuit of – what?! Money? Power? Revenge for perceived inequities? The election of Trump and the blind eye and fawning support many now turn toward his worst behavior and decisions have created a fresh, deep stain that reveals underlying flaws in our national character.
We can do better than this. But we need to recover the will and the courage to fight for it. And we need a spiritual cleansing.
What is the soul of our nation? Is it what Trump embodies? Really?! God can endow us with soul, but we will stain or shape it according to our free will and our decisions. Whatever our soul is or will become is up to us.
On this coming Memorial Day in America, I hope we’ll endeavor to become the best that we can be, honoring the sacrifices of our heroic dead by cherishing and preserving the freedoms and the possibilities for good that they have preserved for us.