Joe Biden and Abraham Lincoln have a number of things in common. They both lost dear relatives, especially beloved sons. They both struggled to get their party’s nomination to run for president. They both won their bid for the presidency by winning a few key states. They both entered office with considerable opposition among the public. They both had huge crises on their plate the first day into the frey: Lincoln the Civil War; Biden the global pandemic, an insurrection, and a predecessor who wouldn’t concede the election’s results, wouldn’t comply with the standard peaceful transfer of power, and who even instigated the insurrection. Lincoln went on to free the slaves, helping him to win the war and protect the Union and its democracy from white supremacist insurrectionists. And Biden…well we don’t know yet how Biden will do to protect the Union and defend the country against its militias of white supremacists and Trump-infused Republicans.
With Lincoln, it took tremendous courage, fortitude, and intelligence to accomplish what he did in the relative short amount of time he had before an assassin’s bullet put an end to his continued good and justice for “all men created equal.” As the Civil War dragged on, Lincoln was increasingly known for his focus and ability to see a solution through until he began to see the results he was looking for. He, like Biden, had members of his own party oppose him every inch of the way. But he had allies too, and he used those allies to help mold public opinion and bend the public to his way of thinking: mainly that slavery was an evil that must be stopped in its vile tracks.
I don’t see Biden using his domestic allies in quite the same way. Despite his economic successes and ability to put money in the hands of those who most need it, the public, thanks to Republican propaganda, gives him relatively low popularity ratings. He obviously doesn’t have the cognitive, oratory, and persuasive skills Lincoln had. Both men also retained key figures in their administration whom they trusted to take appropriate action in their departments. With Lincoln, it was Gen. McClellan who was agonizingly slow to attack when he had the opportunity. With Biden it is Attorney General Merrick Garland who has failed to act decisively to investigate the senior perpetrators and instigators of the January 6 insurrection–that stain on our country that almost brought down our democracy in one violent day.
Lincoln eventually replaced McClellan, after several other failures, with a more focused and effective Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. And that decision was key in finally winning that devastating war. Biden may not realize it but we are in a cold Civil War that requires the insight and courage of a Lincoln to assess the realities of the enemy and take the necessary action–though much different from the politics of yesterday–to put Trump and his surrogates down, and put them down hard.
The political atmosphere today is not that much different than during Lincoln’s time. Slavery, in the form of white supremacy and voter suppression laws, is still with us. Blacks are still denigrated and undermined and discriminated against. We’ve made some progress but not enough. There have been too many conservative operatives that have impeded social progress and civil rights. Every time we advanced several steps with Democrats–although not always perfect–unprincipled Republicans take us right back to the Jim Crow era.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, announced during the Civil War, was not popular among his cabinet members, the opposition party, and even members of his own party, but he was a man who acted on principles. He followed the dictates of the Declaration of Independence, the guiding set of moral laws on which our country is based. Our current Supreme Court could do just as well; as could the many state legislatures who voted in voter suppression laws; as could Republican members of Congress who continually kiss Trump’s ring and lean dangerously to a white supremacist platform that many in our country have followed since the end of the Civil War.
Our country is rife with racism, to put it bluntly. And with racism comes its offspring: authoritarianism. The crude and criminal Trump has extracted racist dogwhistles to the surface, and, yes, like Hitler, has carefully plotted his coup and takeover. The 14th Amendment, enacted after Lincoln’s murder, was aimed at Confederate leaders to prevent them ever holding public office again. But it was wisely inclusive of any and all insurrectionists for time immemorial. If Biden has the motivation, intent, courage, and wisdom he will push Merrick Garland to apply this Amendment to Donald Trump and prevent this bully from ever again holding any office from President to Animal Control Officer.
Jailing the rioters who invaded Congress on Jan. 6 is not enough. Garland, with Biden’s tacit support, must investigate and, if warranted, prosecute the big fish involved if our country and our democracy are to be protected and sustained.
The Midwest Review of Books has written an excellent review of my new book, The Valley Spirit: Living a Tao-inspired Life (Sacajawea Press, Vancouver WA, 2021). Check it out at stephenaltschuler.com.
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