In his new book, “The Soul of America,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Jon Meacham gazes across the contentious political divide in America today and pronounces the glass half-full. Right from the start, his subtitle lets us know where he’s going. His search for the Soul of America is really, in his estimation, “The Battle for Our Better Angels.” The well-known quote is taken from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, which implored the rebellious South to respond to “the better angels of our nation.”
Meacham was moved to write the book in the aftermath of last year’s white racist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., and President Trump’s response. The author seeks to soothe his many troubled readers.
He confidently and smoothly reminds us, like the best-selling author and former publishing executive that he is, that these troubled times are not unique. We have faced discord in our democracy before, particularly in the century that he examines between president Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.
His optimistic conclusion, based largely on what he sees as the role of progressive national leaders in the 20th century, is that, despite our difficulties, we often have come out on the side of the angels.
I found that what Meacham largely chooses to ignore is all that came after LBJ, and the disintegration of the liberal coalition in the later years of the 20th century.
In my opinion, it is one thing to say how good things were in 1964 without much of a thought as to how we came through the following 54 years.
Everyone who attends Meacham’s appearance during the final Saturday night climax to the MJCCA Book Festival gets a free copy of his book to reflect on the era for themselves.
Hopefully the conversation at 8 p.m. Nov. 17 between Meacham and Gail Evans, former CNN executive vice president, will explore more of how we got from there to here.