I don’t remember why I read this book. I was reading American Lion by Meacham and enjoying it so I added it to the queue without knowing much about it. The book uses American historical examples to show that the time in which we live now, as awful as it sometimes seems, is nothing new to America and we’ve always endured and become better for it. That is not to say that we have fixed all of the wrongs and injustices but we have gradually moved forward and improved, through strong and honest leadership. Meacham tells the story of America’s soul chronologically and uses examples like the Roosevelts, Truman, and LBJ in the White House. He talks about MLK Jr. and John Lewis and Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt and how the faced down the countless adversities, especially the rise of the KKK and the Lost Cause. He acknowledges the flaws of these leaders but points out that they mostly understood that they were leaders for all Americans. Meacham does not hide that the examples he uses are intended to represent the current administration. The repeated discussion of the Lost Cause mythos is one of those examples as is McCarthyism, specifically the way that McCarthy understood how media worked and used it to garner the spotlight.
My favorite line from the book and the one that I think best summarizes it is this:
The story of America is thus one of slow, often unsteady steps forward. If we expect the tempest of a given era to sound unwavering notes, we will be disappointed.
We, as a nation, are far from perfect but we are moving towards better. It may not be a straight line to get there but we are making progress. This is not a laurel upon which we can rest, but it is a signal of hope that I know I needed.