The Struggle for the Soul of America: A Time for Serious Soul-Searching

While the country dodged an authoritarian bullet by electing Joe Biden as our next president, we are far from out of the woods. This is truly a time for some deep national reflection.

Our country is deadlocked. Almost half of America believes the election was stolen and Donald Trump should be president for another four years. Despite the administration’s massive corruption and self-dealing,[1] over 73 million Americans voted to give Trump a second term. While the president has lost over 30 lawsuits challenging the 2020 election,[2] a great many Americans continue to stand by him.

At the same time, more than 260,000 Americans have died from COVID 19 while Trump has refused to employ the immense powers of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus. As he continues to ignore this public health crisis, millions of Trump’s supporters still believe the virus is a hoax.

Meanwhile, as deaths from the virus continue to mount, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to undermine Biden’s future efforts to control the pandemic. Mnuchin is placing $455 billion in unspent coronavirus relief funds into an account that requires further congressional authorization to access, even though Congress had previously allocated the funds for emergency relief programs back in March.[3]

Plus, the Senate and House won’t put their differences aside for the good of the country. Once again, they have failed to pass a bill to help the millions who are suffering from the virus or have lost their incomes. Cities and states are also overwhelmed and desperately need federal assistance to keep their public health and other essential services operating.

Why is it so difficult for the country to come together to defeat this terrible common enemy, COVID 19? What don’t we understand? Why are we failing?

Political Science Professor Katherine Cramer at the University of Wisconsin points to a key factor underlying this dilemma. She explains:

There is a deep well of people in this country…who are sure the system is not working for them….(My book explores) the feelings of resentment many rural people in Wisconsin felt toward the urban elite. When Donald Trump won in 2016, partly by tapping into this resentment…I became aware just how surprised many in the cultural elite were about the challenges facing rural communities and the fact that many people living in these places feel they are not getting their fair share of attention, resources or respect. The shock at the closeness of the 2020 race suggests we are still unaware of the depth of this resentment.…What is the infrastructure that allows the hardships of so many to remain invisible?[4]

Mark Bauerlein, professor emeritus of English at Emory University, put it this way:

Ordinary Americans looked at the elite zones of academia, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington itself, and saw a bunch of self-serving, not very competent individuals sitting pretty, who had enriched themselves and let the rest of America slide,…putting the rank and file down for years.

(Trump) pinpointed them as the problem—the reason factories and small stores had closed, unemployment was bad, and PC culture had cast them as human debris. And millions cheered. …The outburst was a long time coming. Trump gave it an outlet, and the scorn for men and women at the top of our country is now widespread and frank. It’s not going to pass any time soon.[5]

John Austin, director of the Michigan Economic Center, offered this solution to the problem:

(U)nless we address the root economic causes of many American voters’ anger and social alienation, we will remain a divided nation, with many remaining susceptible to the message of demagogues like Donald Trump.[6]

But the questions remain: Will Biden and his new Administration really get it? Will the Republicans continue to block progress in addressing these root economic causes?

Are they up to the challenge? To succeed, Sen. Bernie Sanders believes that “Democrats in Congress and the incoming Biden administration ‘must have the courage to take on the powerful special interests who have been at war with the working class of this country for decades.’”[7]

Will they? It is up to us to make sure they do, or we will lose what’s left of our representative democracy to the next populist authoritarian who comes along.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See, the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at

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[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.


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