In his quest for the presidency, Joe Biden has said many times that tomorrow’s election is for the soul of America. It’s a nice idea and a persuasive slogan, but it denies one irrevocable truth: we sold that soul four years ago, and instead of trying to buy it back in the interim, we’ve let it get far enough away so that we don’t quite know where it is any longer.
And it’s as distant now as it’s ever been, maybe even in our history. I’m not discounting our theft of land and life from Native Americans, our enslavement and degradation of people of color, our xenophobic treatment of almost every immigrant group, or the internment of Japanese-Americans. As soul-crushing as they were, these blots on our narrative do not mean we should be wearing sackcloth every day, but we should damn well be humbled by them.
Instead, four years ago, we threw in with a man for whom history is meaningless, for whom memory extends as far back as his most recent tweet, and for whom American disgraces were not merely events from which we learned to confront our own shortcomings and perhaps improve as a nation, but instead events without moral consequence—even, perversely enough, steps along the path of our greatness. Not only did he ask us to forget those shameful chapters in the novel that is America, but even to return to them—to find “greatness” in our cruelty and reimagine it.
This is the United States under Donald Trump. This is the place where no lives matter but one. His.
In such a country the idea of a soul is fanciful at best, but even if there is such a thing, winning it back for us will be a herculean task for Mr. Biden: first he must uncover it, buried as it is under the weight of children dying at the border, of Black people murdered in the streets, of laws bent and shaped to suit the rich and powerful, of our cherished institutions being subverted by rapacity and thievery, of our best people humiliated and abased by a grifter and his party of myrmidons. Who else but a soulless person would accuse doctors of benefiting from a pandemic while maintaining that the pandemic doesn’t exist? And what but a soulless country would give such cynical absurdity any credence. And yet, nearly half of us do. And tomorrow is Election Day.
In November 2016 I was disappointed in Trump’s election, but I was shocked too that it occurred in America—the land of Lincoln and Reagan, Edison and Salk, Margaret Sanger and Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., Jobs and Gates, LeBron the Babe, JFK and RBG. If it happens again, if Trump is reelected, the disappointment will return and remain, but at least none of us should ever again be shocked. I won't be.
We are all familiar with Trump's disavowal of Black Lives Matter and the vapid and distracting response from his followers that "all lives matter." If we can take those two slogans and juxtapose them with Donald Trump's treatment of the pandemic and his willingness to kill friend and foe alike, we soon realize that in Trump's world vision—such as there is one—no lives matter but his. Tens of millions agree. To them the soul carries as much value as the appendix, and they will not be swayed.
In 2020, in the warped and twisted mind of Donald Trump, no lives matter—not the 225,000 already dead, and not the 200,000 to come. Not the parents and grandparents, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, wives and husbands, friends, neighbors...no one.
And tomorrow is Election Day.
I admire Joe Biden's attempt to recover these souls and I hope we give him the chance, but even if he wins, the road to recovery will be harrowing: once the Faustian deal has been struck, going back requires a courage and integrity that have been in short supply since Donald Trump ascended to the White House.