What would Lincoln think of Trump?

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tags: Lincoln, Trump



Sidney Blumenthal is the author of “Wrestling With His Angel, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1849-1856.” “A Self-Made Man, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume I, 1809-1849,” describes Lincoln’s Lyceum Address.

Donald Trump has a sketchy relationship with Abraham Lincoln. “Great president,” Trump said. “Most people don’t even know he was a Republican, right?” Trump also conjectured that “had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” though Jackson had died many years before.

But what would the 16th president have thought of the 45th? Beyond pure speculation, we can find clues in Lincoln’s first formal speech, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” in which he criticized attacks on the free press and warned against a future demagogue who would threaten the fragile American experiment.

On Jan. 27, 1838, mounting the podium before the Springfield Lyceum for Young Men in Illinois, the 29-year-old Lincoln, a member of the Illinois Legislature, described the “mobocratic spirit.”

Lincoln began by decrying a spate of recent crimes that reduced the rule of law to “the caprice of a mob,” including the lynching of a black prisoner in St. Louis. “Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation.” He also condemned the “bands of hundreds and thousands” who “throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors” – which everyone in the audience would have recognized as a reference to the Lovejoy case. ...

He warned against the emergence of a man driven to power by a fierce desire for “celebrity and fame” who “thirsts and burns for distinction.” This demagogue “scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious,” and believing that “nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”

There is a contemporary figure who resembles that fame-hungry demagogue, one who tears down institutions and incites the mobocratic spirit, subverting the right to free expression and, with it, our national freedom. These Lincolnian terms describe our reality-TV-star-turned-president, who called the “FAKE NEWS media” the “enemy of the American people,” and tweeted an altered video that showed him body-slamming a man with the CNN logo in place of his head.

But Trump would no more understand Lincoln’s forewarning than he will accept responsibility for his incitement. Trump’s sense of history is as limited as his self-control. ...






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