Lincoln and Trump: Does it get more incongruous than that?


Someone shared with me this link to publicity about an event, and I was immediately struck by how grossly inappropriate it is to juxtapose a photograph of the Lincoln monument with the name “Donald Trump.” And yet there it is, imposed right across Honest Abe’s left shin.

Yeah, I get it. Someone seeking the Republican presidential nomination, and the first Republican nominee to be elected president. On a very literal, superficial level, I can see how that might make sense to somebody.

But, having watched (most of) the first episode of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” again last night, I am particularly mindful at this moment of Lincoln’s stature as the most careful, thoughtful and profound speaker in our history. He was always careful to say exactly the right thing at the precise moment when it would have maximum effect in moving the nation toward emancipation and reconciliation. Not a word was out of place or ill-timed. He said exactly what needed to be said, for the good of the nation, at exactly the moment when it needed to be said.

He was always about appealing to “the better angels of our nature.” And he succeeded amazingly, at the moment in our history when we were most divided.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who is the opposite of all that. He’s the one person in public life that we can depend on to say precisely the wrong thing (if you define right and wrong according to Lincoln’s priorities of national unity and preservation) whenever he bloody well feels like it.

Putting them together this way is… jarring.

17 thoughts on “Lincoln and Trump: Does it get more incongruous than that?

  1. Mark Stewart

    I got stuck trying to get around a “convoy” on I-95 in Massachusetts on Saturday.

    It was the most amazing – as in amazingly discouraging – sight I have seen on the Interstate in quite a while. There were probably 25-30 pickups of all descriptions – though most of the mud bogger or work truck variety – swirling yellow construction lights from temporary roof-top mounts and all flying from their beds flags of four general sorts: US flag (a minority), Confederate flag (most common) , Tea Party “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and an assortment of military artillery unit and M-4 automatic rifle graphic flags.

    This was quite a collection of young, angry white boys – although there was a significant proportion of a little older ex-military looking guys as well. I don’t know where they were headed or what their point was, but they clearly had an agenda and that was to be as visible as possible on a holiday travel weekend.

    It was a rolling display of anger, alienation, antagonism, and fatalism as I’ve ever seen. I checked out each one as I sped past looking for a Trump or other political candidate sticker but saw none. This was more about outlook than politics I guess…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Speaking of which, given what day this is…

        Back in 1971, when the fall semester didn’t arrive in the middle of the summer, I arrived for the one semester I would spend at USC. It was the day after Labor Day, just like today.

        My roommate, whom I had never before met, was a very cool guy, and also a NASCAR fan. It was the latter fact that brought a bunch of boys to our room to sit around and hash out the Southern 500 from over the weekend. They were really, REALLY into it, and I had no idea what it was all about.

        This was right after Leon Russell’s Shelter People album came out, and one of my favorite songs was “Stranger in a Strange Land,” which happened also to be the title of a novel I had read for the first time just months before.

        And that was what I felt like. (Popular culture was fraught with deep, relevant meaning in those days.)

        Again, my roommate John was and is a very cool guy, a junior who helped this freshman get his bearings in a new environment. But at that moment, on that day, fresh from Hawaii, I was really feeling like the ultimate Stranger…

      1. Mark Stewart

        I didn’t get the sense that they really had a destination. It was all about the display underway…

        Just the thing Trump is and feeds off of as well.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You know, as many extreme things we have attached to our reputation here in SC (first to secede, Preston Brooks, Strom Thurmond…) at least we have a sane, hopeful motto.

          If I were from New Hampshire, and had been in the room when they came up with their motto, I’d have been the guy saying, “How about we tweak it a bit, guys? How about, ‘Live Free or Live Not Quite AS Free?’ It would still have that ‘Live Free’ aspirational bit, but would leave us a bit of wiggle room to fight another day. Huh? How about it? A touch of pragmatism couldn’t hurt, could it?”

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            When I studied for the bar exam, they made a big deal over the NH prisoner lawsuit: the inmates didn’t want to have to make license plates with that motto on them….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Actually, the real Abe didn’t so much fire Chase as accept his resignation. But it was like firing him, because he basically stopped playing Chase’s game. Chase would get all petulant and submit his resignation; Lincoln would ask him to stay, and he would. But the last time, Lincoln had had enough, and accepted the resignation. I believe Chase was rather shocked at that…

  2. Burl Burlingame

    Lincoln may have been, eliquent, appealed to reconciliation and to our higher selves — but people in the south really really hated him and all he stood for.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, they did — even at the start, when all he wanted was to prevent the spread of slavery westward.

      Of course, even that would have spelled the end of slavery eventually, as more states were added and the southerners became more and more outnumbered in Congress.

      And they knew that. Which is why they totally freaked out when he was elected…

  3. Mark Stewart

    In Southern style the options were painted as stark, calamitous alternatives. The reality was that there was an entire continuum of potential incremental approaches that could have eased the South slowly away from the institution of slavery. Lincoln would have most likely given them every opportunity to chart a slow, but steady, road away from slavery, maybe even lasting generations. Instead, the South dug in its heels and elevated its blood pressure and spoiled for a fight – one that it knew it could not win.

    It is mind boggling from our vantage point today to think that the South would abandon the United States of America to maintain the institution of slavery. The thing was, that perspective was also pretty much true in 1860.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Lincoln would have most likely given them every opportunity to chart a slow, but steady, road away from slavery…”

      Absolutely. As much as he hated slavery, he saw preserving the Union as Job One…

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