What Sisters and Oblates Are Reading

The Soul of America


by Jon Meacham
Random House

Sister Marlene Bertke

There's no better way to describe this book, The Soul of America: the battle for our better angels, than by quoting from it: "This book is a portrait of hours in which the politics of fear were prevalent--a reminder that periods of public disinterestedness are not new and a reassurance that they are survivable."

Many of the "politics of fear" hours treated in the book were familiar to me, but I was taken more deeply into them. I remember Strom Thurmond forming the States' Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) in opposition to the Civil Rights Program of President Harry Truman. Do we recognize this as a prelude to what's happening in our country today? Charlottesville--the gathering of twenty-first century Klansmen and neo-Nazis.

The backlash against immigration now is reminiscent of what happened in the First World War—our Better Angels arose then.

I was vaguely familiar with the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin, the anti-Communist hysteria of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the isolationist work of America First before WW I. We lived through an earlier March on Washington that many thought was an attempt to supplant FDR and bring on a fascist state.

Senator McCarthy with his singling out specific publications and members of the media because of coverage he did not like, trashing the Milwaukee Journal—we survived it then and will once more.

In 1969, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, in defense of the Equal Rights Amendment asked Congress “Why does a woman who is a college graduate get asked ‘Can you type?’ when applying for a job?”

Immigration was a problem long before the 21st Century. The white supremist Madison Grant worried that “the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian and the Jew” would overcome the “natives” in the United States. New York was particularly worried about the natives being “swamped and submerged.” There was a great fear because the “foreign born and their children formed such a large proportion of the American people.”

President Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying: “The job of the president is to set priorities for the nation. I believe that every man who has ever occupied the presidency has been humble enough …to realize that no living mortal has ever possessed all the required qualifications.”

This is a very scary observation for today…. I’m curious as to how Meacham will handle it.

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