Soul Man: Jon Meacham’s America

The Pontificator sleeps within the steeple of a Gothic cathedral until the bells toll and the sun rises, until the light shines upon the walkways and treetops of this sanctuary of rectitude until he slides his feet into a pair of velvet slippers and fastens a set of cufflinks to the sleeves of his pajamas. He need only see his reflection to remember his name. He is Jon Meacham. He is the voice of #TheResistance: not the rabble of the mob, with their uterine-shaped hats and knitting needles, but the paterfamilias of every Betsy (or Bob) Ross who is as American as any tenant of “Sesame Street” and any tenet of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

He is the author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. The book is a pastiche of patriotic quotations, with cover art as red as the blood of patriots and chapter titles as pious—and pompous—as any sermon by Meacham. The book is Meacham’s attempt to associate Donald Trump with the fallen angels of America, the demons of our New Jerusalem, whose ranks include every bigot to have worn the white hood of the Ku Klux Klan and every antisemite to have stained the cleric’s collar of Catholicism; whose rank and file include the supporters of Joseph McCarthy and Southern segregationists; whose words include the rank rhetoric of George Wallace and the riotous actions of lawless sheriffs.

Meacham’s angels are presidents of moral authority. They owe their authority not to the letter of the Constitution but to the spirit of a law only Meacham can divine and his congregants can discern. It is the spirit of the Squire of Hyde Park, whose fireside chats—delivered from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House—crackle like the flames from a nearby hearth. Too bad there was no fire to burn Executive Order 9066, signed by FDR, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Italian Americans.

Such is the content of the character of Meacham’s angels. They are sometimes malcontent but never malevolent. How could they be anything but good by virtue of their good intentions? Their souls are American, unlike the un-American soul of President Trump—if he even has a soul.

Such is the stuff of Meacham’s sermon on the mount of a dead horse, which he continues to beat.

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