The American Mind

The Mount Rushmore Election

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for American Common Culture

There is one thing upon which Joe Biden and Donald Trump agree. Biden has repeatedly described the 2020 Presidential election as a “battle for the soul of America.” Trump has stated that this “election will decide” whether or not “we will preserve the American way of life. ” They are both right. The coming presidential election is perhaps the most important since 1860 because what is at stake is not simply policy, but the “soul,” “way of life,” or, in classical terms, the “regime” of the American nation.

I will examine the presidential election in due course. But, first, what is the “soul” of a nation? And what is the related concept, a “way of life”—specifically, “the American Way of Life”?

Major political thinkers from Aristotle to the American Founders, from Machiavelli to Marx, have long examined the question of what is at the heart of a political community. Aristotle wrote that all political regimes had specific concepts of justice and core legitimating principles. Montesquieu talked about the “genius” of a people. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci understood “ideological hegemony” as determining a nation’s direction. Although using very different rhetorical frameworks, these theorists are essentially examining similar phenomena: the core principles, culture, and lived experience of a people.

Regime Change in America

For decades, elite thinking in major American universities has (as academics put it) “problematized” long-accepted understandings of “the American Way of Life” and the core principles of American constitutional democracy. The professors have emphasized race, ethnicity, and gender and the continuing conflict between “oppressor” and “oppressed” ethnic and gender groups in America, while at the same time downgrading the previous focus on the growth of political freedom, individual liberty, and democratic self-government.

It is in this turbulent and revolutionary cultural milieu that the traditional American “newspaper of record,” the New York Times, launched the 1619 Project. The explicit purpose of the Project was to “reframe” the history of the United States by placing “slavery” and “institutional” or “systemic racism” at the heart of America’s story, making it central to America’s ethos and global significance.

As Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine and director of the project, declared, slavery is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin. Out of slavery—and the anti-black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system…its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality…and the endemic racial fears and hatred that continue to plague it to this day.

Despite its blatant falsehoods (e.g., the slander that the American Revolution was launched to protect slavery), the message of the 1619 Project that America is racist in its very DNA is rapidly spreading in educational institutions across our country. The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers’ union, is promoting and distributing the project “to help give us a deeper understanding of systemic racism and its impact.” 1619 curriculum material is now being used in K-12 school systems in Buffalo, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Wilmington, DE; and Winston-Salem, NC., as well as in some four-year colleges and community colleges.

All of this—the 1619 project and, most importantly, its original sources in the universities that have for years promoted an adversarial and even revolutionary ideology set against middle-class values as well as American government—constitutes what Aristotle would have called an “inter-regime” conflict. “Regime” in the Aristotelian sense means not just the government but the culture, the “way of life,” and the legitimating principles and concepts of justice of a people.

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