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Donald Trump is the Heir to Abraham Lincoln's Legacy
The New York Times's new tactic for trying to undermine Donald Trump's presidential campaign, apparently, is to continually compare him to that champion of statists everywhere, Abraham Lincoln. In an op-ed, David Brooks writes:
Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa.
Peter Wehner tries to do Brooks one better by saying that Trump is a man that both the founders and Abraham Lincoln would "fear." Wehner writes:
[We] now live in a time when the organizing principle that runs through the campaign of the Republican Party’s likely nominee isn’t adherence to a political philosophy — Mr. Trump has no discernible political philosophy — but an encouragement to political violence.
Mr. Trump’s supporters will dismiss this as hyperbole, but it is the only reasonable conclusion that his vivid, undisguised words allow for."
The problem with invoking the founders is that they're a slippery bunch who not only took strongly opposing views against one another, but would often times go on to contradict themselves. That said, it's easy to find an example of a founder who would not be afraid of Trump's rhetoric. Thomas Jefferson was known for having romanticized the political violence of the French Revolution beyond the point it would have been reasonable to do so, and is famous for his quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure." Jefferson, at least, was not exactly afraid to use hyperbole in justification of political violence. While I think Jefferson would be horrified by Donald Trump for many other reasons, using hyperbolic, demagogic, and inflammatory rhetoric would be fairly far down on the list.
In 1838, as a 28-year-old state legislator, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Ill. The speech was given in the aftermath of the lynching of a mixed-race boatman and the burning of a black abolitionist newspaper editor. Lincoln warned that a “mobocratic spirit” and “wild and furious passions” posed a threat to republican institutions. He also alerted people to the danger of individuals — “an Alexander, a Caesar or a Napoleon?” — who, in their search for glory and power, might pose a threat to American self-government.
It's interesting that Wehner would choose such a quote from Lincoln in regards to horrible things happening to newspaper editors, because Lincoln, when president, illegally suspended the writ of habeas corpus and imprisoned hundreds of newspaper editors from the north for the crime of speaking out against the policies of his administration. Imprisonment is obviously not as bad as murder, especially such a horrific murder as burning, but certainly the work of a tyrant, and ironic given his warning about “an Alexander, a Caesar or a Napoleon."
In an 1864 order to Major-General John A. Drx, Lincoln stated:
[You] are therefore hereby commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison in any fort or military prison in your command the editors, proprietors, and publishers of the [New York World and New York Journal of Commerce], and all such persons as, after public notice has been given of the falsehood of said publication, print and publish the same with intent to give aid and comfort to the enemy; and you will hold the persons so arrested in close custody until they can be brought to trial before a military commission for their offense. You will also take possession by military force of the printing establishments of the New York World and Journal of Commerce, and hold the same until further orders, and prohibit any further publication therefrom.
When Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, declared in Ex Parte Merryman that President Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was unconstitutional because only the legislature could suspend the writ of habeas corpus, Lincoln issued a warrant for Taney's arrest, which ultimately, and fortunately for the chief justice, never happened. After former Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham was arrested for a speech denouncing Lincoln, Lincoln deported Vallandigham to the Confederacy.
Who else do we know who has openly bragged about wanting to abuse the law to silence their critics? Why, Donald J. Trump of course. If somebody writes something negative about Trump he wants to be able to sue them, and, presumably, if elected president might look to the sterling example of Abraham Lincoln and find out other ways to shut his enemies up.
Then there's the matter of race, and the fact that Donald Trump wants to create additional barriers for people coming to the United States of different races and religions. Trump famously wants to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out "illegal" immigrants, and wants to ban all Muslims from coming to the U.S. Abraham Lincoln, to the contrary, was the Great Emancipator who liberated blacks from the chains of slavery.
Unfortunately, this is mostly fiction. Abraham Lincoln did issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and without him it's very likely that slavery would have continued in the southern states for many more years. So, in fairness, we can say that Lincoln brought about the end of slavery sooner than it would otherwise have happened. However, Lincoln did not end slavery in the United States, and none of his policies during the war had the aim of doing so.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in an attempt to hurt the Confederate states, but did not free any of the slaves who remained in the Union at the time. Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri all remained in the Union during the Civil War, though not necessarily by choice, and all retained the practice of slavery because the Emancipation Proclamation exempted them. Lincoln, in other words, freed the slaves he had no power to free, and left the slaves he could have freed in bondage. Furthermore, in his first Inaugural Address, Lincoln endorsed the Corwin Amendment, which would have solidified slavery's constitutionality within the United States.
We can take Lincoln at his word when he said his interest in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was about "saving the Union," and not about ending slavery. Said Lincoln:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.
Furthermore, Lincoln had a history of spouting racist statements, and supported colonization, shipping all black people out of the United States to Africa or Latin American islands. In a debate with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln stated:
I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
The similarities between Trump and Lincoln become even more clear when we turn to economics, which was what Lincoln was truly passionate about in politics. In describing his politics, Lincoln stated, "I am in favor of a national bank; am in favor of the internal improvement system, and a high protective tariff." Lincoln was a disciple of Henry Clay, and as such was a protectionist and supported government funded "improvement" schemes to violate private property in the name of the public good.
Donald Trump, of course, is famous for his protectionist views against the Chinese and Mexicans, and even came under fire earlier in the campaign by Jeb Bush for his strong support of eminent domain. Both Trump and Lincoln have profited enormously for their support of "internal improvements," of course, as Trump's many golf courses and buildings are the product of eminent domain seizures. Lincoln was a high-powered railway attorney backed by many of the railways that would not have existed without government funding or eminent domain, and he paid them back in his political career by supporting their projects and getting them the government funding that they needed.
So why do Brooks, Wehner, and the New York Times in general fail to connect Abraham Lincoln's ideas and actual policies as president with the stated aims of Donald Trump in his campaign? Well, it's possible that none of them, including the entire staff of the New York Times, is even aware of any of Lincoln's ideas or policies, but it's far more likely that they simply don't care. Lincoln is considered one of the great presidents so the facts are irrelevant. It's simply enough to invoke his name in condemnation of Trump, regardless of how similar they are. This is what passes for intelligent debate at the so-called newspaper of record: Simply invoke a "great" president and declare that someone you don't like doesn't measure up to them.