Memoirs of a Superfan Volume 16.8 – The Soul of America: Gosar, Biden, and Beyond
November 22, 2021
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) was censured and stripped of his committee assignments by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, mostly along party lines. Gosar tweeted a violent video depicting himself “slashing the neck of [Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez [D-New York], amid imagery of violence meted out against hordes of refugees and migrants.” (Weisman J, Edmondson C. House, Mostly Along Party Lines, Censures Gosar for Violent Video. New York Times, Nov. 17, 2021.) Gosar has claimed that the video was not intended to provoke violence, but instead “’symbolizes the battle for the soul of America’ as Congress takes up Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a large package of social spending priorities.” (Behrmann S. Republican Rep. Paul Gosar facing Wednesday censure vote after he posted violent video. USA Today, Nov. 16, 2021.)
Joe Biden also famously said he was fighting for “the soul of America” during his winning campaign for the presidency against Donald Trump. Are both men simply using religiously tinged, self-righteous language in their ideological battles? Is this simply rhetoric, an appeal to pathos, above ethos and logos? I for one am very uncomfortable when a politician claims priority on the soul of a nation while trying to go viral with a violent video. Certainly, the video seems to exhibit and inflame jingoistic, nationalistic, and nativistic sentiments, underscored by the its “violence meted out against hordes of refugees and migrants,” and a Latina congresswoman. Exactly what kind of holy war is Mr. Gosar proposing?
This comes at a time of real and threatened political violence in America. James Alex Fields, who was ‘fascinated by Nazism and Hitler,’ was convicted of murdering Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Kyle Rittenhouse was just deemed “not guilty” of five felonies including the murder of two men and the wounding of a third when he traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin to engage with those protesting after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back in 2020, resulting in Mr. Blake’s paralysis. Jesse Kline, a former police officer in Ferguson, Missouri who was fired for allegedly stalking a former lover, stood watch at the Kenosha, Wisconsin courthouse during Rittenhouse’s trial armed with an AR-15, until police told him this was unlawful because he was within 1,000 feet of a school. In 2020, then-President Trump stated on social media, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” suggesting that violence was an appropriate response to property damage and protests in support of Black lives. Trump also posed for a photo with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church in the midst of protests near the White House, claiming alignment with Christian values and, presumably, “soul.”
The clear danger is that political and religious rhetoric and theater can create or worsen a climate of fear and perceived threat, thus making it more likely that some could get unbalanced and become so-called “lone wolf” assassins, carrying out the violence “suggested” by politicians. It is mission-critical for the survival of our democracy to de-escalate the war of words aimed at extreme devaluation, dehumanization, and disempowering of one’s opponents. It’s telling and unfortunate that the modern GOP does not seem to agree on this point.
Perhaps an understanding of soul can help us move from partisan polarization to a relatedness grounded on our common humanity and our shared needs for safety, survival, and belonging, regardless of political party.
“Soul” is defined as a spiritual or moral bearing or even entity, often described in overarching and immortal terms. (See illustration.) In a more limited meaning, soul is defined as the ‘essence’ of whatever is being discussed. For many, it is synonymous with the African American experience. African Americans invented soul music, with its heartfelt, impassioned channeling of suffering, hope, and joy. Personally, I don’t think any politician should be talking about the “American soul” without first running it by the spirits of Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and Etta James.
We could be talking about the “essence” of American life. What is at the nation’s core? Is it an ideology? A commitment to ideals, or a particular person or type of person? What are the ideals and values of our politicians? I’d hope it’s not “winning at all costs.” I’d hope “soul” is connected with the affirmation of the good, particularly the practice of loving our fellow humans. How do our politicians define goodness? How do we foster goodness, and thus grow our “soul”?
I define soul as a combination of feeling, conscience, consciousness (awareness), and relatedness. We are all clearly works-in-progress, as is the nation as a whole. We are contending with difficult emotions, which are inevitable in times of cultural change and conflict. As I wrote in MOSF 16.7:
Our difficult emotions are essentially symptoms of disconnection and vulnerability. They are unrelated feeling and distress, linked to survival concerns, including the survival of our moral beings. If they remain disconnected, they boil into antagonistic factions of jealousy, hatred, and self-aggrandizement. But emotions can deepen into feeling when we allow ourselves to be present with ourselves and others with compassion. Feeling, woven together with conscience and consciousness, connects us to soul.
Have a happy holiday season. And remember to feed your soul. Maybe when we feed our souls, the soul of America can tell us what it’s really about. And then we’ll be ready to fight for it. Feeding our neighbors might be a good place to start.
Morales C. What We Know About the Shooting of Jacob Blake. New York Times, 11/16/21
Bella T, Bellware K. Man with AR-15 outside Kyle Rittenhouse courthouse is a fired Ferguson police officer, he says. Washington Post, 11/19/21
When the looting starts, the shooting starts. Wikipedia. Retrieved 11/21/21.
Chandra R. MOSF 16.7: Jay Caspian Kang and The Loneliest Americans vs. the Psychology and Reality of Asian America. East Wind eZine, 10/20/21