In his victory speech promise to rescue the “soul” of America, Joe Biden speaks to us more like a shaman than a politician. Exactly what does he mean by the phrase “soul of the nation”? It must refer to our shared, unifying values and beliefs. In classical culture, the term would be sensus communis—a common, shared sense of reality. No family, friendship, or nation can survive without it.
Take, for example, the idea of truth. In any human relationship, truthfulness is the unspoken rule. If a friend keeps making up stories about me I know are false and harmful, it will undermine the friendship. More intimate relationships like marriage are destroyed by extra-marital lies and lying. Still, we mostly all acknowledge the difference between telling the truth and lying.
But something happened to our American sensus communis. Trump stepped out of ‘Reality TV” onto the political stage and began lying about Barack Obama. He hasn’t for one minute stopped lying since then. As I write, Trump is still suffering from the psychotic delusion that he actually won the election. He’s unable to distinguish the mathematical fact of his defeat from his own fantasy of triumph.
Donald Trump, in essence, is diametrically opposed to the primary adhesive of human society, our common sense of humanity. Trump’s relentless compulsion to distort the truth in accord with his narcissistic will to power has eaten away our normal ideas of what is right and true. We increasingly inhabit a culture of fake news. Could anything be more dangerous?
Trump has done his best to poison the common fund of values and beliefs we associate with justice, compassion, the basic oneness of the human community, and the crucial imperative to save nature and human life from catastrophic climate disruption.
Here we come up close and personal to issues of the soul of the nation. Circumstances call for some serious soul-searching. We need to pause and reflect on the values and ideals that really make us great: values of the heart, of science, of spirit, of creative imagination.
In all this, Trump was, is, and will remain grossly deficient. The soul of the nation was never Trump’s concern. Biden of course will be constrained by the Republican Senate and other obstacles to progress. But Biden represents what our new Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, described so vividly—in a word—“Possibilities!” Possibilities that Trump has done his best to crush.
All the issues that have been tearing us apart turn out to be issues centered around the soul. I believe the use of this term—soul—goes to the root of the problem. It’s not just a rhetorical flourish of Biden’s. Consider the central problem of our world: money. The problems with it are legion, beginning with the inhuman inequity of wealth virtually everywhere. The inequity is designed to appear perfectly legal, perfectly legitimate, and perfectly enforceable. It’s also perfectly soulless—cruel, callous, and dehumanizing.
Biden cuts through all the BS and wants to appeal to and speak to the soul. He wants to stir the deeper sensitivities that allow us to feel the injustice and feel the need to act to redress the injustice. The soul has to be dead not to feel all the injustice around us, the historic abuse and repression of native Americans (most massively); blacks (most hypocritically); women, in multiply fashion (from time immemorial); people who love in different ways (who should inspire us ); children brutalized and forced to separate from their parents; families in flight from a spectrum of horrors beyond their control. We’ve been bombarded by lies designed to frighten us and destroy our compassion.
Trump voted out of office has sent people everywhere dancing for joy in the streets. There is at least the hint of a desperately needed renaissance of human consciousness. We are a planet battling a pandemic and plunging toward climate catastrophe that threatens to dislodge world civilization. The picture of Trump continuing to lead us during this historic crisis was a sickening prospect. We have been spared this, thanks to the American voter. Instead we have a new president who in stark contrast to Trump gives every indication of being a man with a soul.