America votes. Again. What would Lincoln say?

October 31, 2020


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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, October 31, 2020)

Of course, the party would not be complete without Abraham Lincoln. And it’s a good day to ask America’s 16th president what he thinks of it all, Tuesday’s big vote.

As I write, on a window sill behind my desk sits a bust of Lincoln, otherwise known as Honest Abe. Small enough to fit into one hand, the trinket was once gathered with memories into my knapsack from a Washington conference. Journalists from various countries had met in America’s capital to talk about things like truth: how to best communicate truth, or at least get out of the way when it rises.

Not that politics has ever had an intimate relationship with truth. It hasn’t. But in these four years, the time allotted to the Lord of the Lies, the anti-Lincoln, America’s sitting president and, ironically, the leader of the Party of Lincoln, we’ve witnessed how on any given day Donald Trump can make even the most seasoned of liars like, say, old Beelzebub, blush.

The Washington Post’s fact checker, recording Trump’s misleading or false statements in his presidential term, will likely hit 25,000 by Tuesday. Let that sink in. Twenty-five thousand. I mean, even with generous margin for error, you know? Recently, Trump has been on hyperdrive, averaging 50 a day. Like any of us, he’d do well to ask why, more than 150 years later, they even make busts of Lincoln to sit in places like the window of some Canadian thinking about it.

Helpful here is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln. Other politicians were more celebrated and educated, Goodwin notes, but what set Lincoln apart was his honesty – they started calling him Honest Abe while he practiced law – and his magnanimity, that is his unusually generous and forgiving spirit.

There was no grudge. No getting even. Lincoln never let personal insults get in the way of the higher good. Those who’d wronged him found themselves even invited into his cabinet. In the tumult of America’s civil war, which killed more than 600,000, this is the spirit that ultimately pulled and stitched together the bloody brokenness.

It’s also helpful to understand that Lincoln himself was a broken man. Born into poverty, he suffered from genetic disorders and health traumas, including depression. His mother and sister died when he was young. Two sons died prematurely. His wife, later in an asylum, was unwell and strained his marriage. Which is to say, Lincoln struggled with life as much as anyone. In this, he’s a president who, like the God he prayed to, reminds us that we’re not alone.

In three days America votes. Again. And who knows? What we do know is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Quoting the biblical reference of a house divided in Mark 3:25, Lincoln said, in his 1858 nomination speech, how slavery and freedom are simply not compatible. “I don’t expect the house to fall. But I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

All one thing. Or all another. This is how freedom, and slavery, work. We become what we choose. As individuals. As nations. Which is why, as the adage goes, people get the leaders they deserve. In our post-truth culture, it’s an especially sharp thought. And it’s a good reason to pray, if you’re like Lincoln, for our American friends. Our neighbours. Our family.

I’ve befriended, likely like you have, good Americans. They’re from Minnesota and Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and South Carolina and Georgia and California. We’ve visited some in these places, even as my family first met many of them overseas. Once we invited several into our Ugandan home to watch Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie, Lincoln, which is loosely based on Goodwin’s book.

There he is, the lanky president, voice resonant, larger than life, filling the wall of our African living room. It’s a memory.

Now, looking at polls and suppressed voting and electoral college possibilities, Tuesday’s vote can still go either way. So, really, what would Lincoln think of it all? Maybe, using his well-known wit, he’d somehow find a way to laugh at the strangeness of it. As he once said. “I laugh because I must not cry. That is all. That is all.”

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October 31, 2020 • Posted in , ,
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18 thoughts on “America votes. Again. What would Lincoln say?”

  1. I am disappointed. Trusting in the Washington Post fact checkers (utterly dishonest Democratic partisans) is like asking the Devil if God is fair. I wish you had checked sources that are more in line with our versions of the truth. You didn’t!

  2. Great article Thom, timely, truthful, and I love the ‘look’ in Abe’s eye as he gazes out at President Trump.

    The actual struggles (family related and personal) and potential parallels (rebuilding a divided nation) between Lincoln and Biden are quite amazing, despite being from different parties. Almost as stark as the contrast between Lincoln and Trump in the same party.

    Times change, and we shall see.
    From one former Republican now voting Democrat (with some nagging fear they will turn around and try to get their own back with their own partisan abuses of power).


  3. Thanks for the thoughts, Dan. And sorry for not mentioning Minnesota in the original list of states. It’s now in. Some day (some summer day) I hope you and I can meet up there. And you make an interesting note, re: some parallels with Biden’s story. Good to hear from you.

  4. Hmmm. Thanks, Larry, for your thought, but I don’t think the issue is the Washington Post – even with room with error or bias – as much the observation and listening ears of common people, myself included. That’s the beauty of free thought.

  5. Thank you so much for this, for seeing more clearly than many Americans do. We’re right there with you. From two of those Pennsylvanians, John & Jan Kennedy

  6. “Team of Rivals” has been buried under my ever-growing stack of must-read books. I suppose I’ll have to move it higher. Thanks for the thoughts Thomas.

  7. Thanks for the reflection on the stark contrast between Lincoln and that strange man currently in the White House! I can no longer even tolerate hearing him and his lies and whatever else. Yet somehow, this election seems like it’s “our” election because its outcome inevitably has an impact on Canada…

  8. Thanks for the note, Michael. Yes, the reading pile can be just that. I hope you get to it at the right time — and the Spielberg movie with Daniel Day Lewis is really something too.

  9. I don’t know much about about American politics except the thought the both democrats and Republicans seemingly share the same agenda. This article reminds me of
    life’s important virtues like honesty. Thanks for that reflection Thom. Emmanuel

  10. Excellent article, once again ! There is a certain peacefulness to your writings that makes for wonderful reading. Hope you and the family are well.

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