What would Lin­coln say?

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - SID­NEY BLU­MEN­THAL IN THE LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES Sid­ney Blu­men­thal is the au­thor of sev­eral books on Abra­ham Lin­coln.

Don­ald Trump has a sketchy re­la­tion­ship with Abra­ham Lin­coln. “Great pres­i­dent,” Trump said. “Most peo­ple don’t even know he was a Re­pub­li­can, right?”

But what would the 16th pres­i­dent have thought of the 45th? Be­yond pure spec­u­la­tion, we can find clues in Lin­coln’s first for­mal speech, “The Per­pet­u­a­tion of Our Po­lit­i­cal In­sti­tu­tions,” in which he crit­i­cized at­tacks on the free press and warned against a fu­ture dem­a­gogue who would threaten the frag­ile Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment.

On Jan. 27, 1838, mount­ing the podium be­fore the Spring­field Lyceum for Young Men in Illi­nois, the 29-year-old Lin­coln, a mem­ber of the Illi­nois Leg­is­la­ture, de­scribed the “mobo­cratic spirit.”

Lin­coln be­gan by de­cry­ing a spate of re­cent crimes that re­duced the rule of law to “the caprice of a mob,” in­clud­ing the lynch­ing of a black pris­oner in St. Louis. “Hav­ing ever re­garded Gov­ern­ment as their dead­li­est bane, they make a ju­bilee of the sus­pen­sion of its op­er­a­tions; and pray for noth­ing so much as its to­tal an­ni­hi­la­tion.” He also con­demned the “bands of hun­dreds and thou­sands” who “throw print­ing presses into rivers, shoot edi­tors”— which ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence would have rec­og­nized as a ref­er­ence to the Love­joy case. On Nov. 6, 1837, in Al­ton, Ill., Eli­jah P. Love­joy, an an­ti­slav­ery ed­i­tor, was mur­dered by a group of men who stormed his ware­house to de­stroy his print­ing press.

Then Lin­coln pointed to an even greater men­ace than ram­pag­ing mobs, “a prob­a­ble case, highly dan­ger­ous.” He warned against the emer­gence of a man driven to power by a fierce de­sire for “celebrity and fame” who “thirsts and burns for dis­tinc­tion.” This dem­a­gogue “scorns to tread in the foot­steps of any pre­de­ces­sor, how­ever il­lus­tri­ous,” and be­liev­ing that “noth­ing left to be done in the way of build­ing up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”

These Lin­col­nian terms de­scribe our re­al­i­tyTV-star-turned-pres­i­dent, who called the “FAKE NEWS me­dia” the “en­emy of the Amer­i­can peo­ple” and tweeted an al­tered video that showed him body-slam­ming a man with the CNN logo in place of his head.

But Trump would no more un­der­stand Lin­coln’s fore­warn­ing than he will ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for his in­cite­ment. Trump’s sense of his­tory is as lim­ited as his self-con­trol.

If we can de­duce how Lin­coln would per­ceive Trump, we can also sur­mise how he would ad­vise Amer­i­cans to han­dle him. This is what he said about the pos­si­ble rise of an Amer­i­can dem­a­gogue: “And when such a one does, it will re­quire the peo­ple to be united with each other, at­tached to the gov­ern­ment and laws, and gen­er­ally in­tel­li­gent, to suc­cess­fully frus­trate his de­signs.”

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