‘The Soul Of America’ Makes Case For America’s Diversity & Complexity

Oct 15, 2018

President Abraham Lincoln termed the push-pull, sometimes violent war for our nation’s soul as “the battle for our better angels.” More than 150 years after the Civil War’s end and Lincoln’s death, the battle goes on unabated.

Credit Penguin Random House

There’s probably no better example of this than the divisions that have been at play in Wisconsin and around the country in just the past decade. The issue of what carries the nation through times like this has been playing on the mind of historian Jon Meacham, who sought to answer that question in his latest book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.

Meacham notes that this constant struggle is in the very nature of history. "We are here to try and create a more perfect union, not a perfect one. There’s really no alternative, given human nature," he says. "And I think the remarkable thing about the American experiment is that we've gotten as much right as we have."

The Soul of America does not minimize the nation's problems, sugarcoat the past or overlook the work needed, according to Meacham. But he says that if you step back and assess how the United States has developed, "we have always grown stronger the more widely we've opened our arms and the more generously we've interpreted the Jeffersonian assertion of human equality."

What the current generation and this particular political moment faces, says Meacham, is the task of making sure that America continues to be a place where all people are interested in being a part of the state, not leaving it.

"If there's any lesson in the last three years, it is that the same country managed to send Barack Obama, twice, to the White House, and then that country sent Donald Trump. Now, you tell me if that's not a diverse and complicated nation," he says.

Meacham will touch on the themes in his latest book as part of a League of Women Voters forum on Truth, Trust and Democracy Saturday morning at Alverno College, but he first joined Lake Effect's Mitch Teich: