Joe Biden and the Soul of America

Joe Biden and the Soul of America

About a year ago, when there were a flurry of books coming out about Trump, I saw and bought the book “The Soul of America” by John Mecham. I’m not quite sure what attracted me to the book. Perhaps it was Mecham’s seemingly unironic boomer belief in “American values” and my shock that anyone still believed in any of that in an uncynical way. Whatever it was, I bought and quickly read the book. It turns out to have been rather fortuitous that I did seeing that the book seems to have popularized the phrase “the soul of America,” a term that quickly entered the political lexicon of liberals.  The book portrays a version of American history that is overwhelmingly positive, and that thirst for a positive, hopeful view of American history is what I believe put it on the New York Times best sellers list for months.  It is that same desire for a positive message about America that has driven the support behind Mr. Biden.  But Mr. Biden has done more than simply draw upon the same feelings as Mr. Mecham’s book.  Mr. Biden directly referenced the book itself when he described the current presidential race as a “battle over the soul of America” during his opening campaign video.

Joe Biden is, if you believe the polls, the clear front runner in the Democratic race. Whether or not these polls are correct, it is clear that Mr. Biden has a base of support within the Democratic party apparatus and among Democratic primary voters, meaning that he is going to be around for some time to come. Thus, I think it is incredibly important to understand the worldview that he is promoting and the brand of Democratic party politics that he is running on. His worldview and that brand of politics is a throwback to the politics of FDR and Truman, but, as we have seen with Trump, throwbacks can be quite successful.

The book and Biden’s rhetoric represent a vision of America that is highly traditional. America, in this telling of history, is the “shining city upon a hill.” America is always failing to achieve its highest ideals but always striving to achieve them nonetheless. The book breaks American history down into seven moments. The author wants to show, with each of these moments, how there were always great Americans pushing for “progress,” which Mecham refers to as our “ better angels” and, at the same time, how there were always the dark forces of racism and bigotry fighting against progress. Thus, the liberal audience of today can always project themselves back into the past and allow themselves to believe that they would have been one of the “good guys,” as if history is some chose your own adventure fairy tale. But, one thing is constant throughout the whole book. Whether the better angels or the dark parts of our heart are winning, America is always portrayed as a fixed star of goodness. If only, Mecham seems to think, the truly good nature of America could fully shine, we would be a beacon to the world because, from his view, this country was founded in goodness and the higher ideals of democracy.

This is a boomer vision of America. A vision born in the post World War II euphoria of America thinking that it was the best nation on the planet, a nation that could do anything that it set its mind to. The modern idea of the “Soul of America” also reaches back to World War II in the sense that the perceived enemies of this worldview are stark and simple enemies. For the World War II generation, their enemies were the Nazis and the totalitarianism of Imperial Japan. In modern day America, Biden, and others within the Democratic party, are essentially saying that “real America” is at war with the “Nazis” again. They have made this comparison by calling Trump a “Nazi,” referring to their political enemies as “Nazis,” and Biden has made the comparison by focusing so much on the events of Charlottesville and citing them as why he is running for President.  There has also been a renewed focus from the establishment Left on waging an ideological war against so called “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” powers like Russia, Hungary, and Poland.

In other words, the Left have created a worldview where the ideological struggles of the World War II generation have been mapped onto modern day America. But, no matter who the enemies are, America is always seen as inherently good and those forces attacking America, the Alt Right and Russia, as inherently bad. Not because of anything they do but because of the fact that they reject Americanism. These perceived domestic enemies, like the modern day Alt Rigt or racism in general, are never portrayed as embodying the center of what America is, its core identity. Herein lies the fundamental contradiction between the boomer “Soul of America” idea and the views of millennial progressives. This disagreement is best expressed by the contradiction between Hillary Clinton’s phrase “America is already great” and Antifa’s chant that “America was never great.” Boomer politics and the liberal idea of the “soul of America” embraces the sentiment that America is already great and could continue towards ever more greatness if not for bigots like Trump, but this is certainly not the millennial progressive worldview.

In the millennial progressive mind, America was and is intrinsically evil and racist. Their view of America is that America was founded in sin, the sin of racism, and has carried forth in that sin ever since. For the millennial progressive, Trump is just the latest expression of white America’s inherent racism, a racism that is always just below the surface. The difference in worldviews between boomer liberals and millennial progressives is, as Thomas Sowell would say, “a conflict of visions.” Which is why many were worried if Biden even had a shot at winning the Democratic nomination. They worried that Biden’s worldview would not be appealing to an increasingly non-white, foreign born, and younger Democratic party. I mention younger people because every person born after, say, 1980 will have been taught a narrative of American history whose highlights are the Klan, slavery, and the genocide of the Indians. In other words, younger white millennial have been taught a version of US history that emphasizes the narrative of America’s inherent evil and racism, thus making Biden’s view of America’s inherent goodness seem rather absurd by contrast.

Like Trump, Biden is calling back to an earlier time when Americans were more united and had more of a common agreement upon liberal values. Segments of the Left and the Right have torn that agreement to shreds. The progressive Left tore it to shreds because it saw liberal values as being inherently racist, the racial Right tore it to shreds because it sees liberal values as being inherently anti-white and against the interests of white people. If Biden wins, his unofficial slogan will be “Make America Great Again.” Both Biden and Trump represent separate desires to bring back different versions of America’s boomer past. Virtually every aspect that we hate about modern American life, culture, and politics have their roots in America’s boomer past. From modern art and an unjust economy to American empire and anti-white politics, all of them find their origin in the post-war boomer world order. I think that America deserves better than trying to get back to a degenerate past.

Eric King
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