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Georgia's political geography: A growing and diverse state gets more competitive – The Washington Post

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Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)

Eighth in a series on swing states

When they sifted through the wreckage of the 2016 election, and reckoned with their losses in the Midwest, Democrats were surprised by what they found in Georgia. The state had not voted for a Democratic president since 1992, and it delivered 16 electoral votes for Donald Trump, continuing the pattern.

But something had happened in the suburbs. In defeat, Hillary Clinton had won more raw votes out of Georgia than any Democratic nominee in history, and she had carried the GOP’s longtime stronghold — the fast-growing counties just outside of Atlanta. Nearly half of the state’s votes came from the Atlanta metro region, and the modern GOP has never struggled so much there.

Even in triumph, Republicans began to worry. Once-conservative Cobb County elected a new GOP chair on the promise to “Make Cobb Red Again.” A 2017 special election for a House seat in the county went down to the wire. One year later, Democrats flipped that seat and nearly won another in Atlanta’s suburbs, as Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams lost the closest race for governor in 24 years.

“Democrats, let’s do better,” Abrams wrote in a 2019 memo to party leaders. “Any decision less than full investment in Georgia would amount to strategic malpractice.”

Have Democrats put everything they could into the state since then? Arguably not — but that’s changing. Joe Biden’s cash-flush campaign has bought ads in the state, and Abrams’s group Fair Fight Georgia has registered hundreds of thousands of voters and pumped up requests for absentee ballots. The Trump campaign has not taken the state for granted, with the president dropping into Atlanta last week to roll out his “platinum plan” for Black Americans.


Georgia’s shift from 2012 to 2016

Clinton was the first Democrat since Carter to win Cobb and Gwinnett counties, suburban GOP strongholds.

GOP won

by 250K

Dem. won by

500K votes

Atlanta Suburbs

2016

margin

Black Belt

South Georgia

North Georgia

Statewide 2016 margin

Democrats added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held the state again with landslide support from north and south of Atlanta.

How Georgia shifted from 2012 to 2016

Clinton was the first Democrat since Carter to win Cobb and Gwinnett counties, suburban GOP strongholds.

GOP won

by 250K

Dem. won by

500K votes

Atlanta Suburbs

2016

margin

Black Belt

South Georgia

North Georgia

Statewide 2016 margin

Democrats added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held the state again with landslide support from north and south of Atlanta.

How Georgia shifted from 2012 to 2016

Clinton was the first Democrat since Carter to win Cobb and Gwinnett counties, suburban Republican strongholds.

Dem. won by

500K votes

GOP won

by 250K

Atlanta Suburbs

2016

margin

Black Belt

South Georgia

North Georgia

Statewide 2016 margin

Democrats added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held the state again with landslide support from north and south of Atlanta.

Like the rest of the Deep South, Georgia was dominated by conservative Democrats for more than a century, from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Democrats held both houses of Georgia’s legislature until 2002 — then, in a single election, lost both, kicking off a decade of decline. Conservative Democrats below the “Gnat Line,” shorthand for where the state’s Piedmont region ends and its hotter plains begin, bolted the party and never came back.

The math only changed as the electorate got larger and more diverse. In 2004, when Democrats made no effort in the state, 70 percent of all voters were White, according to exit polls. In 2016, the White share of the electorate fell to 60 percent and Democrats won the state’s suburban Cobb and Gwinnett counties, for the first time since Jimmy Carter won the presidency. They added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held out with landslide support from White voters north and south of Atlanta.

Republicans are slightly more nervous about those suburbs, but in a war of attrition, they have more votes to spare. We’ve split Georgia into six political “states,” starting with Atlanta, where Republicans were struggling before Trump’s presidency and have lost ground since. The Atlanta suburbs, six counties with interstate access to the city, have become the state’s most competitive region. North Georgia, the Piedmont and South Georgia are solidly Republican, and the party may have some more votes to turn out there. The Black Belt, with fewer votes than these other regions, always backs Democrats — but a turnout difference of just 20,000 or 30,000 votes, with rural Black voters being enthusiastic to cast ballots and confident those ballots will count, could swing a close statewide election.

This is the eighth in a series breaking down the key swing states of 2020, showing how electoral trends played out over the past few years and where the shift in votes really mattered. See all 50 states here.

Atlanta

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The “capital of the south” welcomes tens of thousands of new residents every year, and they have only made Atlanta bluer. In 2016, Clinton won more votes in the three core counties of metro Atlanta than any Democrat in history. Donald Trump won fewer votes here than any Republican nominee in 20 years. Months later, he alienated Atlanta’s Black voters further by insulting Rep. John Lewis (D), insisting that the Civil Rights icon’s district was in “horrible shape” and “infested” with crime.

Lewis died this year, and Atlanta continues to get bluer. DeKalb County is one of the few majority-Black places in the country where turnout in 2016 was markedly higher than 2012, and in 2018, Abrams turned out 10,000 more voters than Clinton had — an unheard-of surge from a presidential year to a midterm. Republicans still run strong in the north end of Fulton County, around cities like Roswell — just not as strong as they once did, as those cities have grown more diverse and less conservative.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

181,710

Hillary Clinton

626,686

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 181,710
  • Hillary Clinton: 626,686

Counties included: Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton

Atlanta Burbs

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The exurbs of Atlanta were built by segregation and “White flight.” The city’s geographic expansion halted in the 1960s, when such places as Sandy Springs rejected annexation; nearby Marietta became a bulwark of White conservative politics, starting Newt Gingrich on his journey to becoming House speaker.

But a steady stream of immigrants and escapees from other states has turned the region blue, with Cobb County backing Clinton by two points, then supporting Abrams by nine points. A region that gave Mitt Romney a 60,000-vote victory in 2012 gave Clinton a 48,000-vote margin, then went more solidly for Abrams and Democratic candidates, with the party picking up 11 seats in the state legislature largely through gains in these suburbs.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

404,885

Hillary Clinton

452,450

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 404,885
  • Hillary Clinton: 452,450

Counties included: Cobb, Douglas, Gwinnett, Henry, Newton, Rockdale

North Georgia

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The reddest part of Georgia has also been making the most news lately — conservative activist and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican nomination to represent the 14th Congressional District, and the party threw up its hands. Every county in the region backed Trump in 2016, with the GOP nominee carrying all but three precincts, in the cities of Dalton and Rome. And Trump added more than 50,000 votes to Romney’s 2012 total, finding White voters without college degrees who had been sitting out elections.

Democrats added some votes, too, because there was not much room to fall. In the past few decades, only Zell Miller, who’d been born in Towns County, was able to win votes here for Democrats. The GOP now clears 80 percent of the vote in most of northwestern and northeastern Georgia, and Gov. Brian Kemp’s 2018 win came after he did what looked unlikely — he made it even redder.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

549,131

Hillary Clinton

156,310

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 549,131
  • Hillary Clinton: 156,310

Counties included: Banks, Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Dawson, Elbert, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Gordon, Habersham, Hall, Haralson, Hart, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White, Whitfield

Black Belt

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has an average share of people living in cities.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Georgia, as with much of the Deep South, was built on the backs of enslaved Black people, and the legacy of the cotton trade stretches across the middle of the state. Fifteen counties in the region have majority-Black populations and have voted reliably for Democrats even as Whiter counties have shifted toward the GOP. They’re essential to Biden’s chances in the state, but no nominee has maximized turnout here since Barack Obama’s two campaigns.

From 2012 to 2016, the falloff was worth around 25,000 votes. The region’s biggest cities, Augusta, Columbus and Macon, got bluer, while Democratic margins everywhere else slightly declined. Four small counties also flipped from narrowly blue to narrowly red — Dooly, Peach, Quitman, Twiggs — as Black turnout declined, and they stayed red in 2018, even as Democratic turnout grew in urban areas. But like the Black Belt in other parts of the South, the region is slowly losing population, capping the number of new votes either party can win.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

194,353

Hillary Clinton

235,000

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 194,353
  • Hillary Clinton: 235,000

Counties included: Baker, Bibb, Burke, Calhoun, Chattahoochee, Clay, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Glascock, Hancock, Houston, Jefferson, Lee, Macon, Marion, McDuffie, Miller, Mitchell, Muscogee, Peach, Quitman, Randolph, Richmond, Schley, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taliaferro, Taylor, Terrell, Twiggs, Warren, Washington, Webster, Wilkinson

Piedmont

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Outside of Atlanta, central Georgia is mostly rural and overwhelmingly Republican, with a few dots of blue. The University of Georgia helped make Athens one of the most liberal parts of the state, if not as liberal (or as vote-rich) as similar college towns in the Midwest and Northeast, and the places closest to Atlanta moved marginally toward the Democrats.

The rest of the region is overwhelmingly White and solidly Republican, with the party gaining strength here in every election since 2010. (Obama’s 2008 bid made a few inroads here, but only in that election.) Across these 30 counties, Trump ran roughly 17,000 votes ahead of Romney; Clinton ran roughly 7,000 votes ahead of Obama. Winning here by a smaller margin, over a candidate who has not inherited all of Clinton’s problems with White working-class voters, could hurt the GOP.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

399,873

Hillary Clinton

197,567

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 399,873
  • Hillary Clinton: 197,567

Counties included: Baldwin, Barrow, Butts, Carroll, Clarke, Columbia, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Harris, Heard, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Lincoln, Madison, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Pike, Putnam, Spalding, Troup, Upson, Walton, Wilkes

South Georgia

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

There are two very different political climates south of the Gnat Line; most voters live in the one that’s shifting right. Outside of Savannah and its suburbs in Bryan County, every single part of the region voted by a bigger margin for Trump than for Romney; tiny Brantley County gave Trump a 78-point margin, one of his biggest in the entire state. Across all six of our “states,” this is the only one where Clinton ran behind Obama, with Trump expanding the GOP’s margin from nearly 140,000 votes to more than 170,000 votes.

Those trends didn’t change in 2018, and strong turnout here helped Republicans cross 50 percent of the statewide vote, even though the population of southwestern Georgia has been shrinking. Like the Piedmont, this is a deep red region with a few dashes of blue in small cities; Democrats won the city of Valdosta, for example, while nearby Moody Air Force Base is a Republican stronghold. A good night for Republicans will involve landslide margins out of Georgia’s southern counties; an upset by Democrats will require enough gains elsewhere to make that irrelevant.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

359,062

Hillary Clinton

209,990

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 359,062
  • Hillary Clinton: 209,990

Counties included: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bleckley, Brantley, Brooks, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Echols, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans, Glynn, Grady, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Johnson, Lanier, Laurens, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, McIntosh, Montgomery, Pierce, Pulaski, Screven, Seminole, Tattnall, Telfair, Thomas, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Ware, Wayne, Wheeler, Wilcox, Worth

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The ACA Case Reveals the Politics of ‘Constitutionality’ – The Atlantic

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Getty / The Atlantic

“I’d like to terminate Obamacare,” President Donald Trump said at Thursday night’s debate. He said he hoped that the Supreme Court, flush with six conservative justices after Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s likely confirmation, would take care of the job for him. “Now it’s in court, because Obamacare is no good.”

Trump’s argument is an awkward one, and not only because it’s a toxic message in the closing days of a campaign that’s occurring against the backdrop of a global pandemic. At last week’s confirmation hearings for Barrett, Trump’s Republican allies on the Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly threw cold water on the lawsuit, which the Supreme Court will hear on November 10. As Democrats drew attention to the risk that the Supreme Court might put the law to the torch, Republicans insisted that the lawsuit was unlikely to succeed and that it was unfair to assume that Barrett would be as reckless as the man who nominated her. Democrats accused Republicans of disingenuousness; Republicans accused Democrats of fearmongering. The ensuing debate was as loud as it was unedifying.

All that noise obscured two deeper truths. The first is about the nature of constitutional change, and it helps explain why Senate Republicans have a point when they question the viability of a lawsuit whose goals they share and that the White House supports. The second is about the threat that the conservative Supreme Court poses to democracy. A Justice Barrett may be unlikely to topple the Affordable Care Act, but she’s a foot soldier in a conservative legal movement that has armed itself with the tools to subvert Congress’s ability to govern.

Roll the tape back to 2010. Minutes after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the part of the law requiring people to secure insurance or pay a tax penalty. At the time, the cases were widely dismissed as constitutional stunts that stood no chance of success in the federal courts.

By the time the Supreme Court heard them in 2012, however, the cases had become nail-biters. That year, Jack Balkin, a Yale law professor, took a hard look at how that happened. His account of constitutional change didn’t turn on the nitty-gritty of legal doctrine. Instead, it hinged on the simple insight that “what people think is reasonable depends in part on what they think that other people think.”

Supreme Court justices are people too. That’s why moving a constitutional argument from “off the wall” to “on the wall”—to borrow Balkin’s terminology—demands more than showing that the argument is legally defensible. The justices must be reassured that the argument has enough public support that they won’t be written off as kooky or eccentric for endorsing it. The Supreme Court came to find that the Constitution protected gay rights and gun rights, for example, only after those rights had become mainstream. A similar shift in public sentiment explains how the challenge to the individual mandate became plausible.

How exactly did the challengers manage it? It wasn’t enough for conservative lawyers to make clever arguments, though that was essential. Nor was it enough for Tea Party activists to crash town halls. For Balkin, the key to the campaign’s success was the full-throated support of the Republican Party. The arguments of liberal lawyers insisting that conservatives were just making stuff up about the Constitution rang hollow when Republicans across the country, including local politicians, business leaders, and the guy on the bar stool, said otherwise. An argument can’t be crazy if half the country buys it.

The Republican Party’s political support was forthcoming because the legal challenge directly advanced the party’s agenda. Republicans might cripple a law that they deplored; failing that, they could use the challenge to focus public outrage and mobilize voters. As it happened, the Supreme Court, by a 5–4 vote, upheld the Affordable Care Act by construing the individual mandate as an exercise of Congress’s power to tax. But the political gambit worked: In 2012, Republicans made historic gains in both the House and the Senate. President Obama called it a “shellacking.”

Strictly on the legal merits, this latest challenge to the individual mandate is more absurd than the first one. In 2017, when Congress eliminated the tax penalty for going without insurance, it left in place language saying that people “shall” buy insurance. With nothing to back it up, that instruction lost its teeth. But the challengers—a group of red states—have argued that Congress, by retaining that language, must have meant to coerce people into buying insurance.

The upshot is that, by eliminating the tax penalty for not having insurance, Congress made the individual mandate more coercive—and thus unconstitutional. Even more radically, the challengers say that the constitutional flaw in the individual mandate requires unraveling the entire Affordable Care Act. Neither of these arguments is defensible.

But the case’s doctrinal weakness is not what most sharply distinguishes it from the first Obamacare suit. Indeed, the arguments are coherent enough to have persuaded each of the three Republican-appointed judges who have heard the case so far. The biggest difference is that the conservative political establishment that did so much to make the last Obamacare case seem plausible, even inevitable, has not laid the same groundwork here. The case is still off the wall.

The first sign that something was different about this lawsuit came in 2018, just months after it was filed. Instead of avoiding a debate over health reform, as they had before, Democratic Senate candidates used their opponents’ support for the lawsuit as a cudgel. Joe Manchin of West Virginia fired a shotgun at a copy of the complaint; Claire McCaskill of Missouri ran ads excoriating her opponent, Josh Hawley, for joining a case that would rip protections from people with preexisting conditions.

Hawley set the script for how Republicans would respond to these attacks. They would ignore the lawsuit, not defend it, and press the misleading talking point that they support protections for people with preexisting conditions. Protective of his Senate majority, Mitch McConnell damned the lawsuit with faint praise, saying only that there was “nothing wrong with going to court. Americans do it all the time.”

The pattern has held this election cycle. Embattled Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, for example, has refused to say where he stands on the case. Instead, he released a campaign video promising to maintain preexisting-condition protections “no matter what happens to Obamacare.” When Democrats forced a vote on whether to bar Trump’s Justice Department from supporting the lawsuit, Gardner and five other incumbents in close elections broke from their party to side with Democrats. Republicans aren’t running on their party’s support for the lawsuit. They’re running away from it.

The only major exception is President Trump himself. Indeed, the White House’s surprise endorsement of the lawsuit in 2018 is probably best understood as a bid to get the rest of the Republican Party to back the case and put it on the wall. But that bid failed: The case was just too radioactive for most Republican officeholders. Even Attorney General Bill Barr has urged the president to moderate his position. A more prudent president probably would have taken that advice.

If the lawsuit is such a liability for Republicans, why was it brought in the first place? The answer is that what’s bad for the party may still be good for some politicians. Every one of the red-state attorneys general who brought the lawsuit has ambitions for higher office. But winning a gubernatorial race in Utah or Texas means winning a Republican primary, and the primary electorate in these states is much more conservative than the general. It might be advantageous for those politicians to press a position that’s bad news for Republican incumbents.

This puts Republican leaders in a bind. Without getting crosswise with the White House, they are trying to signal as loudly as they can that they would prefer the lawsuit to go away. That effort reached almost comic proportions during the Barrett hearings. McConnell said that “no one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act.” Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, emphasized that severability doctrine requires judges “to save the statute, if possible.” Senator Chuck Grassley said that it was “outrageous” to think that Barrett would invalidate the law, because, “as a mother of seven, [she] clearly understands the importance of health care.”

The Supreme Court is sure to get the message. During the first Obamacare case, groups affiliated with the Republican challengers filed 59 amicus briefs, including one from the Chamber of Commerce and another on severability from McConnell and dozens of Republican senators. This time around, only five amicus briefs were submitted to support the lawsuit, all from marginal players in the Republican political ecosystem. McConnell is sitting this one out.

The Supreme Court would thus be going out on a limb were it to invalidate all or part of the Affordable Care Act. It may still do so; we’re all just guessing. But without a full-court press from the Republican Party, a result like that couldn’t be spun to the public as a principled constitutional holding. Even to Republicans, it would look like rank partisanship. And the justices know that Republicans would bear responsibility for the fallout.

Although the prospects of this particular lawsuit are dim, however, the Democrats were right to focus on it during Barrett’s hearing. To begin with, the case serves as a reminder of all the other cases about health care that are coming down the pike—and not just those about abortion. The Supreme Court, for example, will decide in the coming weeks if it will hear a case about whether 19 states can impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said no, effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of people from losing insurance. A Supreme Court packed with a conservative supermajority could—and probably would—flip that decision.

This latest Obamacare case also stands in for all the cases to come involving progressive legislation. Judge Barrett has been pretty candid that she would have sided with the challengers in the first lawsuit challenging the individual mandate. If she, not Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had been sitting on the Court back in 2012, the Affordable Care Act would now be in ashes.

That should teach us something about the reception that major legislation passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to receive on a 6–3 Supreme Court. Republican officeholders may have mixed feelings about this case, but they will leap to convince their conservative constituents of the unconstitutionality of Medicare for All or a new Voting Rights Act or the Green New Deal. The resulting mobilization will make the Supreme Court receptive to inventive arguments that target those laws or frustrate their implementation.

Making the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of the Barrett hearings was thus apt—not because the law itself is in serious jeopardy, but because it symbolizes the risk of giving a veto over progressive legislation to a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court. The justices’ views about what counts as reasonable, like anyone’s, are powerfully shaped by the political debates of our time. If Barrett is confirmed, the views of two-thirds of those justices will be shaped by a Republican Party that represents less than half the country.

That’s not just a problem for Democrats. It’s a problem for democracy.

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This story is part of the project “The Battle for the Constitution,” in partnership with the National Constitution Center.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Nicholas Bagley is a law professor at the University of Michigan.

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Transcending politics – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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It is a phrase that has been continuously invoked by Democratic and Republican leaders. It has become the clearest symbol of the mood of the country, and what people feel is at stake in November. Everyone, it seems, is fighting for it.

“This campaign isn’t just about winning votes. It’s about winning the heart and, yes, the soul of America,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in August at the Democratic National Convention, not long after the phrase “battle for the soul of America” appeared at the top of his campaign website, next to his name.

A recent campaign ad for President Donald Trump spliced videos of Democrats invoking “the soul” of America, followed by images of clashes between protesters and police and the words “Save America’s Soul,” with a request to text “SOUL” to make a campaign contribution.

That the election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation, suggests that in an increasingly secular country, voting has become a reflection of one’s individual morality — and that the outcome hinges in part on spiritual and philosophical questions that transcend politics: What, exactly, is the soul of the nation? What is the state of it? And what would it mean to save it?

The answers go beyond a campaign slogan, beyond politics and November, to the identity and future of the American experiment itself, especially now, with a pandemic that has wearied the country’s spirit.

“When I think of soul of the nation,” Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate and a Muscogee (Creek) Nation member, said, “I think of the process of becoming, and what it is we want to become. That is where it gets tricky, and that is where I think we have reached a stalemate right now. What do people want to become?”

Harjo said the country’s soul was “at a crucial point.”

“It is like everything is broken at once,” she said. “We are at a point of great wounding, where everyone is standing and looking within themselves and each other.”

In Carlsbad, Calif., Marlo Tucker, the state director for Concerned Women for America, has been meeting regularly to pray with a group of a dozen or so women about the future of the country. The group has been working with other conservative Christian women to register voters.

“It really comes down to what do you stand for, and what do you not stand for,” she said.

“I know this is a Christian nation, the Founding Fathers were influenced by the biblical values,” she said. “People are confused, they are influenced by this sensationalism, they are angry, they are frustrated. They are searching for hope again in government, they are searching for leaders who actually care for their problems.”

THE BODY POLITIC

The soul, and the soul of the body politic, is an ancient philosophical and theological concept, one of the deepest ways humans have understood their individual identity, and their life together.

In biblical Hebrew the words translated as soul, nefesh and neshama, come from a root meaning “to breathe.” The Genesis story describes God breathing into the nostrils of man, making him human.

The meaning echoes through today, in a pandemic that attacks the respiratory system and in police violence against Black people crying out, “I can’t breathe.”

Homeric poets saw the soul as the thing humans risk in battle, or the thing that distinguishes life from death. Plato wrote of Socrates exploring the connection between the soul and the republic in creating the virtue of justice. For St. Augustine, who wrote “The City of God,” the city could be judged by what it loves.

The soul of the nation is “a very ancient trope that is revived when all sorts of cultural ideas are in flux,” Eric Gregory, professor of religion at Princeton University, said. “It reveals something about the current political conversation, in times of crisis and change, a corruption of sickness.”

Often we stress systems and institutions, he said, but in the Trump era there has been a return to ancient concepts about the welfare of the city, where politics is about right relationships. “In ancient politics the health of society had a lot to do with the virtue of the ruler,” Gregory said.

In the United States, the question of who could define the soul of the nation was fraught from the start, from the forced displacement of American Indians to the enslavement of Africans.

And the state of the soul of the nation has often been tied to the country’s oppression of Black people. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass fought for an “invincible abhorrence of the whole system of slaveholding” to be “fixed in the soul of the nation.” Lyndon B. Johnson said the country found its “soul of honor” on the fields of Gettysburg. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders formed what is now the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, they made their founding motto “to save the soul of America.”

‘BATTLE FOR THE SOUL’

This year Trump has positioned himself as the defender of a Christian America under siege. “In America, we don’t turn to government to restore our souls, we put our faith in Almighty God,” he said at the Republican National Convention. Franklin Graham, one of his evangelical supporters, wrote last year that this age is “a battle for the soul of the nation,” as the original “moral and spiritual framework, which has held our nation together for 243 years, is now unraveling.”

For Biden, the soul of the nation came into focus after the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago. “We have to show the world America is still a beacon of light,” he wrote at the time.

Amid questions of the soul, voters have problems they want solved, and systems they want changed.

North of Boston, Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, an organization that develops inexpensive housing, reflected on the disastrous impact of the coronavirus pandemic for many people, from essential workers to people with disabilities. The country’s soul is disoriented, adversarial and tired, he said.

“I don’t think Group A is going to beat Group B and everything is going to be fine,” he said of the election. “We are eager to see political leaders at every level regardless of party demonstrate concrete, actionable plans to address these issues of inequity around health and race, and to do so in a way that is concrete and has outcomes to which they can be accountable.”

photo

Protesters watch a fireworks display above the White House after President Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination during the final night of the Republican National Convention, in Washington, on Aug. 27. The election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation, suggesting that in an increasingly secular country, voting has become a reflection of one’s individual morality — and that the outcome hinges in part on spiritual and philosophical questions that transcend politics.
(The New York Times/Erin Schaff)

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On politics and the principle of nurturing – MinnPost

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Who is my neighbor? Over the course of life’s wanderings my answer to this question has gone through expansion and contraction cycles, and as I stumble into middle age over the cracks and potholes I recognize I’ve treated the question at times as rhetorical and metaphorical, but increasingly in recent years, literal. Especially this year, and especially at this time of year as I make decisions about the votes I will cast for elected offices in November.

Tim Moore

The passionate pursuit of a single issue can drive a vote. As I write this, I’ve just read the fine commentary on these pages by Erik Johnson, who discourages us from hinging our decisions on single issues (“At election time, you have a voice — and it is your obligation to use it,” Oct. 19). I have never been a single-issue voter, but in these complex times parsimony is an elixir. The issue I claim is the principle of nurturing (the breadth of which may get me a pass from detractors of single-issue voting). Oxford Languages defines nurturing as “to care for and encourage the growth and development of.” As a mental health professional, I’ve become aware of the ubiquity of the need for nurturing (all of us, not just those who seek professional support), and as a Lutheran I struggle with the limitations on the bandwidth I have for contributing to the nurturing needed where my family lives in the urban core and across the state where my kids will grow up alongside yours.

A natural tendency

Humans have a natural tendency to nurture — with our families, pets, gardens, clubs, teams, businesses — reflecting the importance of people, where we belong, and what we are responsible for. We can recognize nurturing in the actions of people who inspire us. We read about nurturing in the newspaper and other media every day in wide-ranging stories of long-sustained efforts in every sector of life from global politics to sports to race relations, in obituaries telling us how the world is a better place because of ideas, values, and visions nurtured. Nurturing is not something the political right or the left can claim — thankfully it is a nonpartisan path to tread.

In his 2015 book “The Nurture Effect,” Anthony Biglan argues for nurturing as the core of solutions to challenges faced by individual people, families, schools, and our larger society (among other roles in his influential career in social/behavioral science, Biglan directed the research consortium of the Promise Neighborhoods initiative under the Obama administration). He describes nurturing as a scalable practice supported by decades of research across sectors of society that drives improvements to the human condition at the individual and systems levels. Biglan traces the origin of his push for nurturing to his work on a 2009 Institute of Medicine report on preventing social and health problems: “I began to see common threads that ran through all successful programs, policies, and practices … all of them make people’s environments more nurturing.”

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Neighbors = Minnesotans

Back to the question “who is my neighbor,” I have settled on the answer of “everyone in Minnesota.” Business and pleasure have taken me all over this state to experience the richness of its people, places, and pursuits. But rather than a simple balm for my struggling spirit and a road map for action, this answer adds complexity. The decisions I make at the ballot box this November cannot possibly nurture all my neighbors in the ways they would define it. It is not a zero-sum calculation, but what nurtures the (mostly white) neighbors on my block may not nurture my BIPOC neighbors. Decisions that nurture my urban hometown or my beloved wild lands may not nurture the farmers who grow my food or the mining families who produce resources for our state and far beyond. I try to listen and learn but I don’t walk in the shoes of others. I embrace the tension in having no simple answers and in rejecting the dichotomous choices of our politics.

There will be winners in this election who will earn the responsibility of nurturing their entire constituencies, and must be held to account in that regard. I cling to an optimism that I am not alone in the hope that our civil discourse can embrace the difficult shades of gray it has shied away from in this age of the echo chamber, and collectively our tendencies as nurturers will pave smoother roads for all our neighbors.

Tim Moore is a psychologist who lives in St. Paul with his wife and three children.

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