Reconsidering “Lincoln,” Lincoln…And Trump

I’ve been reading a lot about Abraham Lincoln of late. A book by William Hanchett called “The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies” reminded me that while President Jackson is the closest historical match for the populist, outsider aspect of Donald Trump’s rise, the startlingly close match for the antipathy and hatred Trump has faced from the moment of his election eerily traces the experience of Abraham Lincoln.

Like Trump a minority President, Abe won only 39.8% of the popular vote but was still comfortably elected by the Electoral College. As with Trump, his opposition refused to give him a chance to govern or unify the nation, although in his case, the Democrats divided the country literally, seceding from the union before Lincoln took the oath of office. Today’s Democrats are without that option (thanks to Lincoln!), but are doing everything else in their power to undermine the elected leader. (And California, the most Democratic state, is saber-rattling about seceding.) Also like Trump, Lincoln did not concede that his lack of a popular vote majority in any way robbed him of a mandate to govern.

From the moment the election results were known, many Democrats proclaimed the election of Lincoln itself to be an act of aggression, a “declaration of war.” Many in Lincoln’s own party—even his own Attorney General—accused him, with some justification, of engaging unconstitutional measures. The Governor of New York evoked the Revolutionary War generation, saying that they would not stand for such incursions on their rights. Constitutional expert George Ticknor Curtis of Massachusetts predicted that the Lincoln Presidency would “be an end to this experiment in self-government.”

Meanwhile, pundits and critics heaped personal abuse on Lincoln, calling him grotesque, a barbarian, ” gorilla.” Diarist George Templeton Strong, whose words are so often quoted by Ken Burns in his documentary about the Civil War, called him a “yahoo.” It was said that fashionable New Yorkers would be ashamed to be seen in the presence of someone as boorish and uncultured as Lincoln;  it was rumored that he rejected handkerchiefs and “blew his nose through his thumb and forefingers, frontier-style.” As late as 1864, a New York editor wrote,

“[The President] is an uneducated boor. He  is brutal in all his habits and in all his ways. He is filthy. He is obscene. He is vicious.”

Somehow, despite this cruel barrage of ad hominem rhetoric, arguably more successful then that it would be now since the public has more knowledge of the President and can make their own observations, Lincoln persevered to meet the greatest challenges any President ever faced.

While still pondering some of the parallels with today’s relentless attacks on our current President, I watched again the 2012 Stephen Spielberg-directed film “Lincoln,” which was almost unanimously praised when it was released, and which I enjoyed a great deal when I first saw it. This time, however, “Lincoln” revealed itself as an ethics corrupter. Continue reading

An Urgent And Probably Futile Call For Empathy And Compassion For The Victims Of Cultural Whiplash

north-carolina-protest-transgenderIt is sobering to read  the hateful and contemptuous comments from so many of my Facebook friends about the legislators of Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and other states that have either passed or have tried to pass laws allowing citizens to opt out of the cultural freight train that gives them the option of boarding or getting crushed. Whether these are “religious freedom” laws or “bathroom laws,” aimed at transgendered interlopers in the once orderly realm of public bathrooms, or whether they are designed to fight for the definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman,” these laws, every one of them unwise and unethical, and probably unconstitutional too, need to be regarded as the inevitable and predictable result when human beings are forced to absorb cultural shifts in a matter of years or less that properly would evolve over generations

Culture–what any society, country, region, religion, business, organization, club, family, secret society or tree house agrees over time as how they do things, think about things, what is right and what is wrong, what is remembered and what is forgotten–is a constantly evolving process. Efforts to freeze it inevitably fail, because human beings as a species can’t stop themselves from learning. Efforts to rush the installment of major changes, however, can be disastrous, even when there seems like no alternative but to rush.

Laws don’t automatically change culture. They are part of the process, both reflecting and facilitating cultural shifts, as well as institutionalizing them. They do not even mark the end of such shifts. Nobody should be surprised, angry or abusively critical when those who have been raised to believe in certain values and practices feel betrayed and mistreated, and see the need to resist when their sense of what is right is suddenly proclaimed as not only wrong but the sign of a character deficiency and a cause for denigration and disrespect. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Darkness of the Right, Pissing Away American Values”

Is that you, Rod?

This is a treat. I was hoping that my post about the most ethically-challenged of the Right’s uber-patriots cheering corpse desecration would flush out a full-throated cheerleader, and here he is!

In his indignant reply to Bill ( a Marine himself), first time commenter Haddit (who, I gather, has “haddit” with all this ethics talk) gives a bravura performance of exactly what ethics-free thinking will get you in this and other war-related issues. It turns people into clones of the ridiculous general (played by the late, great Rod Steiger) in Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks,” whose nuanced response to every dilemma is “Kill! Kill! KILL!” ( I know, I know…in the movie it turns out that the general was right after all. It is a satire.)

Here is Rod’s, er, Haddit’s Comment of the Day (to Bill) on my post about the infamous pissing Marines, The Darkness of the Right, Pissing Away American Values. You’re welcome for the editing, Haddit. I’ll have some final comments after the featured rant:

“Are you kidding me? They should be punished?????? We train these guys and gals to be heart-breakers and life-takers, but “oh no don’t piss on the enemy”? I say we put all the bodies of our enemies in a giant blender and dump their remains on the cities where they lived and let’s see how long they screw with us. Desecrating bodies……….What does a bullet or a bomb do, man? War is being insane, doing insane things. Sane folks don’t KILL other folks. So, we teach em to be insane but with rules? THERE ARE NO STINKING RULES. KILL, KILL, KILL come the cries of our military men and women while in training. “WHAT MAKES THE GRASS GROW”???? “We don’t go to war to die for our country, we make the other poor bastard die for his country.” Continue reading

The Darkness of the Right, Pissing Away American Values

Doesn't it make you proud to be an American?

I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming, but indeed I did not. After all, when photographs surfaced showed American servicemen and women abusing, tormenting and torturing helpless (and untried) Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the hard right, led by conservative radio talkshow hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, attempted to minimize America’s disgrace and the catastrophic failure of the military chain of command by wielding the worst of rationalizations.

“They do worse things to us!”

“We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys!”

“They had it coming!”

“At least the soldiers didn’t saw their heads off, like the Arabs did to Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg!”

The fact that the atrocities in the prison violated the core values of the Declaration of Independence and the very foundation of America’s reason for existence—human dignity and inalienable human rights—never occurred to these warped culture warriors, who did not have the decency to be ashamed that the United States military would present itself to the world as bullies, thugs and sadists.

Now we, and the world, have seen a video taken by one U.S. Marine in Afghanistan of four of his colleagues gleefully urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban combatants. The Obama administration, hopefully having learned its lesson from the Bush Administration’s botching of its response to Abu Ghraib, immediately and unequivocally condemned the conduct of the marines and vowed that it will not go unpunished. (Whether there will be proper consequences for the brass responsible for such a catastrophic collapse of military discipline remains to be seen.) Of course this is the correct response, and the only responsible response,

Yet last night I heard talk show rant-master Mark Levin, dubbed “The Great One” by his talk show host colleagues (Jackie Gleason’s estate should sue for defamation), furiously denounce the Obama administration and praise the Marines. Continue reading

Unethical Web Post of the Month: William Rivers Pitt

I had been unaware of the existence of a writer named William Rivers Pitt before yesterday, and I now I will look back on those days of naive and blissful ignorance with nostalgia and deep mourning for innocence lost. The face of unreasoning hate and bigotry is always ugly, but one seldom encounters such purple-complexioned, vein-popping, spittle-spewing fury on the web, especially from a published author with a vocabulary exceeding “Deliverance” levels. I had been aware of the website Truth-Out, a hard Left commentary site that I now know exercises no editorial discretion whatsoever.

Mr. Pitt’s rant is entitled “The Wrath of Fools: An Open Letter to the Far Right,” which, if it were written by anyone with a history of the relative moderation of, say, Richard Cohen, Nancy Pelosi or Bill Maher, I would assume was satire. Continue reading