As we head into the presidential elections, a useful and insightful book to read about presidential character is a “Team of Rivals” by well-respected historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. This acclaimed book is a detailed study about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. In her introduction, Lincoln had the admirable qualities of “…kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty and empathy…” Besides being gifted with great humor, he was lenient, gracious and magnanimous. He would listen to his critics, and neither was vindictive, revengeful nor carried grudges. He assumed responsibility for the failures of his subordinates and easily shared credit with them. He was self-confident, but he learned from his mistakes. Often he wrote apologies to those he felt he had slighted. When the Civil War ended, he was not triumphal or boastful. And, he truly felt the pain and agony for the fallen soldiers on both sides of the War.
Before becoming the President, he helped build the Republican Party, which was based upon not extending slavery into the New Territories. As President (1861-65), he proclaimed his Emancipation Proclamation—an executive order abolishing slavery in the Confederacy. And to his ever-lasting credit, he was able to get Congress and the Union to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery forever in the United States. Finally, he and the new Republican Party passed a number of historic bills:
The Homestead Act: Western public-lands were opened for settlement (notwithstanding the impact on Native-Americans).
The Morrill Act: Established public, land-grant colleges like the University of Idaho.
The Pacific Railroad Act: Provided an infrastructure development for the transcontinental railroad.
The Legal Tender Bill: Creation of paper money needed to support the economy.
The Internal Revenue Bureau: A first in American history, whereby a federal income tax was levied so that the government could support the needs of the country.
Perhaps unintended by the author, I began to realize the descent of the Republican Party. Today’s Party has supported the wealthiest 1%, and the deregulation of Wall Street and the Big Banks, which brought on the Great Recession. They are trying to undo Social Security, Medicare and programs for those in need. They are also trying to restrict the right to vote.
Finally, in comparison to Lincoln’s eloquent rhetoric, Mr. Donald Trump’s language has dropped political discourse to a disgraceful low, with its crude, insulting and disrespectful nature. In his seemingly egocentric and scape-goating display, there lies a danger to our political system. I take no pleasure to note that this language is too chillingly reminiscent of the extreme, right-wing rhetoric in 1930s Europe.
The character of the Republican Party of today is not that of the party that Lincoln helped create, and Mr. Trump is no Abraham Lincoln.
Philip A. Deutchman