We are consistently hearing politicians and pundits talk about how work is being done to save America’s soul. Biden said it (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/09/01/remarks-by-president-bidenon-the-continued-battle-for-the-soul-of-the-nation/), the former president has said and continues to say it (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/17/us/biden-trump-soul-nation-country.html).
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said it, saying that the saving of community was key to saving this country’s soul (https://reformedjournal.com/to-save-the-soul-of-america-martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-renewal-of-america-today/) Historian Jon Meacham wrote a book about it: (https://www.npr.org/2018/05/02/607704116/soul-of-america-makes-sense-of-americas-present-by-examining-its-past)
And yet, in spite of lofty words and ambitions to save what we call “democracy,” America’s soul is revealing itself as a spiritual sore that cannot be healed because the toxic cells that were released at the founding of this country have metastasized to the point where nothing can be done. America’s soul is terminally ill.
Some would argue. Those on the right who see the takeover by people who believe in Fascism and who do not want democracy to survive, say that things will be all right if America goes back to “what she was.”
What was that, exactly?
It was a country that sanctioned the enslavement of Black people from the beginning, using Black labor to build it into an economic behemoth. It was a country where law enforcement was formed primarily to dissuade enslaved Africans from fleeing their enslavement. (see Carol Anderson’s book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America). It was a country where even presidents enslaved people, and pastors preached in support of it.
It was a country where the concept of “liberty and justice for all” was a farce from the beginning; the founders and those who came after them never believed that all people deserved liberty, justice, or full American citizenship with the rights that citizenship required.
It was a country where patriarchy was the rule and where white women were minimalized while Black women were brutalized, with white men using the excuse that their violence against Black men was justified based on their belief that Black men raped white women, while the fact was that the white men were raping Black women and getting away with it.
It was a country where white settlers thought it just and right to exterminate the lives of Indigenous Americans whose land this was – so that they could make this a country for white people; it was a land where the whites who killed others believed they were doing the work and the will of God.
It was a country where “law and order” have most often meant keeping Black people “in their place,” forbidding them by law to learn to read and write or even to visit libraries, and it was a country where little Black children seldom finished school or enjoyed full days in class because the law said they could only go to school a few hours a day – less in planting and harvesting seasons – so they could work the fields and thus help white people live comfortably while they were forced into abject poverty.
It was a country where the laws caused and supported the creation of Black ghettos,(see Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law) a country where Black people who had served in the military were denied access to loans that white soldiers received upon completion of their time of service that helped them purchase homes. It was a country where “the law” often looked the other way as Black soldiers came home and were immediately attacked and killed – while still in uniform – by white men who wanted them to never forget who this country said they were.
It was a country where medical experiments were carried out on Black people – without their consent and often without anesthesia – to perfect instruments and treatments that would later serve masses of white people. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/17/603163394/-father-of-gynecology-who-experimented-on-slaves-no-longer-on-pedestal-in-nyc) (https://eji.org/news/remembering-black-veterans-and-racial-terror-lynchings/)
So, America’s “soul” was infected by a deadly virus called white supremacy while it was still in the womb; the country was born with a terminal disease. Those who believe being terminally ill is not the case – because they do not believe that white supremacy is a dreaded social disease but is, rather, the preferred way to live, believe that the “soul” of America will be safe once all of the work done to protect the lives of all people has been undone.
America’s division is so complete that even the definition and understanding of her “soul” cannot be agreed upon.
America’s “soul” as defined by both sides is non-existent. With that in mind, it is unclear how it can be “saved.”