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Country needs leader like Lincoln

Commentary

While watching the evening news during the summer, I heard President Donald Trump refer to the outgoing head of the Secret Service, Randolph Alles, as “Dumbo” — mocking his oversized ears. I couldn’t help but think what he would have said about Abraham Lincoln, who, by his own admission, was so ugly that when he was born, the doctor slapped his mother.

Speaking of Honest Abe, Trump has often proclaimed himself to be the greatest president since the Illinois rail-splitter even though he possesses none of the qualities which made number 16 our favorite occupant of the White House. In Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote that Lincoln’s greatest asset was his empathy. While examples of such are legion, perhaps most memorable was his letter of sympathy to the mother of a young soldier killed during the Civil War. Examples of Trump’s lack of empathy would fill a book –one of the most egregious being his policy of separating immigrant children from their parents and deterring them in cages indefinitely. A more recent example-when he sicced the troops on Black Lives Matter protesters (thugs to him) in D.C. so he could do a photoshoot blaspheming the Bible.

And speaking of immigrants, Lincoln was a staunch advocate of immigration and religious freedom as exemplified by his public condemnation of the American Party (aka Know Nothings), an xenophobic movement hell bent on ridding the nation of foreigners, including the Irish and Catholics. He would have been appalled at Trump’s immigration policy contrived by a modern-day Josef Goebbels, Stephen Miller; a policy intended to keep out Muslims from certain countries. Excepted from the latter was Saudi Arabia, the home of most of the 911 terrorists, where the president, his family and his sycophants had significant business interests.

Most of Lincoln’s biographers lauded his ability to compromise, subordinating personal feelings for the good of the nation. As an example, his first cabinet consisted of three bitter political rivals (Seward, Chase and Bates) and a Democrat who openly despised him, Stanton. Lincoln never would have succeeded in meeting the monumental challenges he faced without the contributions of these men. By comparison, Trump honored his pledge to his base to “clean the swamp” by appointing to his cabinet and other key positions men and women who are working hard to go down in history as the most incompetent and corrupt ever to hold office. And as for compromise-he never heard of the word.

Kearns Goodwin also praised Lincoln’s ability to be compassionate, although he was no pushover and could play political hardball with the best of them. For example, his post-war reconstruction plan would have allowed Southerners to re-join the Union without the harsh punishments demanded by the Radical Republicans led by Thaddeus Stevens; he felt correctly that they had suffered enough.

Tragically, a terrorist actor, J.W. Booth, put an end to his dreams of reconciliation. While Lincoln was desperate to unite the nation, Trump remains committed to dividing it. He has made no effort at reconciliation with the Democrats and people of color, choosing instead to fan the fires of fear and bigotry for a base representing but a third of the American people, including millions of Evangelicals willing to forgive his daily abrogation of the 10 Commandments in exchange for his support of their political agenda (e.g. anti-abortion; anti-gay) and white nationalist organizations whose extremist views make the Know Nothings pale by comparison. Trump’s demagoguery has given rise to a bloodless civil war which has fractured family relationships, ended lifelong friendships and rendered Congress impotent. More recently, his words and deeds tell one and all that as far as he’s concerned, black lives do not matter.

Recently, my wife and I watched an outstanding documentary on the rise of Adolph Hitler. We couldn’t help but note similarities with what’s transpired here over the past three plus years.

A transformative personality with an oratorical gift able by means of numerous rallies and hyperbole to transform millions into avid followers; supported by devotees gifted at orchestrating a propaganda campaign designed to demonize the “enemies” while lionizing their self-serving agenda; creating scapegoats for the economically marginalized to direct their pent-up frustrations against (sadopopulism); buying the allegiance of bankers and captains of business and industry with tax breaks and other “favors;” circumventing the law at will and packing the courts, high and low, with individuals whose loyalty to the leader takes precedence over responsibility for upholding the rules of law; closing the borders-denouncing the press as public enemy number one-allowing acts of racial-religious violence to go unpunished-a military available at a moment’s notice to do the head man’s bidding.

As illustrated by the documentary, the majority of Germans didn’t take the Fuhrer seriously until it was too late. If we continue to be lulled to sleep by our complacency, those faint sounds of jackboots marching in the distance will be tramping down our streets, Liberty’s lamp will be extinguished, Gulags will surface and the Land of Lincoln will be but a memory. Just sayin’.

Ray Lenarcic is a 1965 State University of New York at Fredonia graduate and is a resident of Herkimer.

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