The review begins:
"At the close of his First Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln entreated the seceding slaveholders to 'swell the chorus of the Union' until the nation was touched 'by the better angels of our nature.' It is among the most eloquent sentences by our most eloquent president, and subsequent speechwriters and pundits have quoted it nearly to death.
"But as Lincoln knew well, eloquence is not necessarily the same as efficacy. Five weeks after his inauguration, the secessionists fired on Fort Sumter and the slaughter of the Civil War began.
"Jon Meacham is the latest writer to cite Lincoln's plea, which helps suggest why his new book, 'The Soul of America,' is at once so engaging and troubling. Appalled by the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump, and shaken by the deadly white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, Meacham returns to other moments in our history when fear and division seemed rampant.
"He wants to remind us that the current political turmoil is not unprecedented, that as a nation we have survived times worse than this..."
Meacham begins his survey of our "worse" moments with our Civil War. Covering the century that began with slavery's abolition, Meacham reminds us that recovery from these "worse" moments takes time.
He traces that century from the 1860s to the civil rights victories of the 1960s. To reach these victories, "the nation has required activist liberal presidents -- above all Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson -- to replace fear with hope and then to reverse injustice and expand equality."
"Our better angels, Meacham implies, reside in that part of the American soul that inspired the Square Deal, the New Deal and the Great Society."
Meacham is a presidential historian who is currently a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. A former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek, Meacham was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his book, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.
Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, preacher and activist, is not done with us yet. Journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr. is not done with us either. Nor is presidential historian Jon Meacham. They each know the need for morality in politics. They "get it."
In the darkness of the era of Trumpism, these three are bright lights giving us hope that the future need not be dark. Our task is to read, write, learn and act, from our unique platforms.
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