Two Competing Visions for the Soul of America

Those of us who marvel at the extent to which our political life has become polarized need only harken back a few thousand years to the ancient school of Yin-Yang in China. Philosophers of this school, known as “naturalists,” explained the nature of the world in terms of competing opposites: dark versus light (as night became day, then back to night again); cold versus hot (as winter became summer, then back to winter again); female versus male (as each species reproduced through the attraction of opposite genders); war versus peace (as people and animals fought each other for a time, then retreated for a period of rest before fighting again); and so forth. See,

If Naturalist (Yin-Yang) philosophers were alive today, I believe they would not be surprised at the black-white nature of our political discourse. To them, our seemingly mutually exclusive visions for America might be explained as follows:

The Yin Party would be the party of the left, the one favoring virtues of love, compassion, and diversity. Its vision for the United States would be that of a melting pot filled with seekers of freedom from all parts of the globe. The symbol for this party might therefore be the Statue of Liberty, with special emphasis on the words of Emma Lazarus etched on base of the statue: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The Yin Party would favor compassion toward those who are freeing oppression. It would oppose the “Yangism” of Putin’s aggression, insisting on peaceful solutions to human problems wherever possible. It would not view the world in terms of “us versus them,” but rather in terms of “let’s work together to save the planet.”

The Yang Party, on the other hand, would be the party of the authoritarian right, the one favoring virtues of strength, power, and purity. Its vision for the United States would be that of the conquering hero, the Roman soldier on horseback with sword held high. The symbol for this party might therefore be an assault rifle etched with the words of the 2nd Amendment (but leaving out the “well regulated” part.) The Yang Party would prefer to conquer and/or dispel all people of nonwhite races who are freeing oppression. It would admire the Yangism of Putin’s aggression but would be critical of Putin’s inability to conquer successfully. It would view the world in terms of “us versus them;” us meaning those descendants of white European nations.

When the Yin Party looks at the Yang Party’s vision, it sees an unbearable flaw. If the Yang Party gets its way, then the world becomes trapped in a series of unending gang wars. What does a follower do when the conquering hero begins to show signs of age and senility? How does the follower determine the next ruler to whom to pledge allegiance? We are left with a series of internecine wars, like those from the TV series, Game of Thrones.

When the Yang Party looks at the Yin Party, it sees a different, yet equally unbearable flaw. If the Yin Party gets its way, then the United States becomes the weakened prey to whatever Yang commander (like Putin) happens to want to conquer us.

One obvious solution to this Yin-Yang controversy is to look for ways to select the best qualities from both parties and merge them into our nation’s collective vision. This was the approach of Abraham Lincoln, whose second inaugural address (“with malice toward none, with charity for all”) expressed a national vision consistent with both compassion and strength.  

We don’t have to succumb to the extremes of the Yins or Yangs. Instead, we can seek the best of both worlds. We can admire compassion while also admiring strength. In fact, we can begin to see that true compassion is a form of strength, and true strength requires a measure of compassion.