- - Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Joe Biden’s biggest problems are not China’s quest for empire, an overtaxed infrastructure and health care system or the wave of Central Americans marching to our southern border. It’s America’s lost soul — the shared belief that there is something decent and special about America that we offer to the world.

In the 20th century, even the oppressed — Blacks under Jim Crow and European immigrants crowded three families to a cold-water flat during the Great Depression — believed in an essential American justice.

Democracy and capitalism, laced with Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt state activism, was a darn sight better than anything they could find elsewhere or fashion here. And as poor and abused as they were, they fought to cleanse the world of fascism and then stood guard during the long Cold War.

By encouraging the mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, President Trump took an ax to the Ark of the Covenant. He desecrated the U.S. Constitution, seriously damaged the nation’s global standing as protector of democracy and compromised American exceptionalism.

Americans — and their leaders by good example — are supposed to accept that elections no matter how imperfect are better than the oligarchy of single party rule as per China or autocrats in places like Russia whatever their institutional trappings.

Certainly, the Republican senators and congressmen challenging the legitimacy of electoral ballots backed down, and Vice President Mike Pence upheld his constitutional duties admirably throughout. However, an inauguration behind fences, barbed wire and 25,000 American troops — enough to invade most moderate-sized countries — is hardly a testimony to a vibrant democracy.

Absent in Congress or the new administration is any serious discussion about what really motivated thousands to riot on the Mall.

The mob represented White working-class Americans who believe their democracy has failed them. Elites at universities, on Wall Street, in C-Suites and among the mainstream media have hijacked their prosperity — destroying their jobs with free trade and illegal immigration. And those elites enforce a devil’s morality — abortion, gay marriage, transgender rights, no prayer in schools or even creches in public places.

That narrative may have some legitimacy but to primarily attribute the problems of White blue-collar Americans to some grand conspiracy — as Donald Trump, and before him Pat Buchannan, would prescribe — is a cynical falsehood. A good deal of middle America too easily falls prey to nostalgia for manufacturing and office jobs that the digital revolution and robotics are exterminating as surely as the factory system produced inexpensive cloth, candles and metal goods that killed Medieval guilds.  

On the left, failed capitalism is the villain. Big Tech is too big and big banks are too greedy. White folks conspire against people of color — and men against women — in a silent complicity. But that is to be expected according to the 1619 Project — after all the country was founded to perpetuate racism, misogyny and slavery.

All that creates minority rage and White suburban guilt and is destructively false.

George Washington commanded the colonial troops in the French and Indian War to open the West to the nation’s emerging industry and commerce. When Great Britain sought to smother those aspirations, American capitalists wrapped themselves in Enlightenment ideals to justify a revolution.

Hardly as noble as the high school textbooks recount, but racism and slavery were impediments to accomplishing unity between North and South to prosecute the American Revolution, not the motivating factor.

These days the culture of minority communities — the expectation that a government job or government imposed quotas in education and employment can ensure lasting success — and self-serving proselytizing about race by the executive class to the equal rights movement are the major impediments to working and middle class minorities and women accomplishing their goals.

Americans have become so cynical they now believe in Big Lies — just as the Germans did such cynical myths in the 1930s and the Weimar Republic failed. It’s immigrants, intellectuals, bankers and White folks when the truth is most individuals are responsible for their own successes or failures.

The most important thing Mr. Biden could do to save the republic is to talk frankly to both sides — articulate the challenges we face and debunk false narratives — in quite explicit and specific terms.

I am afraid he can’t do that. Mr. Biden hijacked the platform and heresies of the left to become president, applied its theology in selecting his economic team and other high officials and is now too invested in the lies of the radical left.

To find America’s soul, Mr. Biden first must redeem his own.

• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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