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Decoding the Soul of the Nation Narrative

Political soundbites and subtle manipulation.

President Joe Biden brought back his poll-tested “soul of the nation” refrain just last week. Delivering his Memorial Day speech, he said, “Our democracy is more than just a system of government, it’s the very soul of America.” It has been alluded to time and again during the course of his presidency and especially his campaign for re-election. So what is this elusive and ineffable “soul” to which he repeatedly refers?

Purposeful Ambiguity

The Biden administration has unleashed a swath of pledges — from student debt forgiveness and DACA recipient health bonuses to marijuana deregulation — with any number of subsidy-based policies thrown into the mix, all in an effort to persuade varying demographic voting groups that his party is on their side. Notably, each of these taxpayer-funded commitments is aimed at voting blocs that appear to be drifting away from their usually reliable Democratic support.  Is this the soul of the nation? Taxpayer largesse on issues that affect the few?

Biden made clear in his 2022 address – coincidentally entitled “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” – that unity was not his goal. Standing in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, flanked by US Marines and draped in blood-red lighting, the president decried the “white supremacists and extremists” who opposed his policies, denouncing Donald Trump and his supporters over and over again.

So, rest assured this elusive soul of the nation is certainly not unity.

Perhaps Team Biden was referring to something more intangible, even indefinable? If something remains undefined, no one can accuse you of not defending it, promoting it, or doing your level best to save it.

The president uses the terms soul of the nation and democracy interchangeably. He says our democracy is on the line, we need to save democracy, all calls to rescue this supposed “democracy.” Strange words, indeed, for a constitutional republic. But why do Biden and his cohorts pointedly use this descriptor instead of the correct one? Part of that rationale could be simply that a constitutional republic sounds more like “Republican” and democracy sounds more like the “Democratic” Party. And yet, it may go even deeper.

Decrying the threat to “democracy” creates an historic link to Ancient Greece and the early days of Athenian democracy, the fount from which much of our modern thought, and in fact our claim to a lineage of Western civilization, springs. By conflating today’s political fracas with the rise and struggle of the West, Team Biden is saying essentially that the whole of Western civilization and history is on the brink. Yes, a grandiose claim, for sure, but when has a lifelong politician ever shrunk from hyperbole?

Soul of the Nation

So, what is this indescribable soul of the nation?  It may well be something that the average American can answer more accurately and honestly than politicians of any stripe. Perhaps it is the people of the nation, living free, trying their best to get along without the restraint of an overreaching government that seeks to limit their liberties in the name of an agenda as alien to traditional American values as it is to common sense.

In the end, the soul of the nation might well be the right for individuals to determine what they believe about the world without interference or judgment. But it would take a politician of unique bravery to echo that sentiment.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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