VIEW FROM HERE-Aside from the Gettysburg Address, the most significant speech by Abraham Lincoln occurred at the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois, on June 16, 1858.
In this address, Lincoln set out to declare his fundamental beliefs about the expansion of slavery, the perils of his opponent Stephen Douglas' "Popular Sovereignty" platform, and the true intention of the Declaration of Independence. As Lincoln concluded, "I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."
Although the problems facing the United States today are very different from the ones that confronted a burgeoning American empire in the mid-19th century, the principle question Lincoln posed in his speech is as pertinent now as ever. In a time of pandemic and political instability, will the country turn against itself? In other words, as the economy continues its rapid descent into depression, as families go without food, homelessness becomes an epidemic, and fear mounts, will America hold its house together? For there will be forces in the government that will try to manipulate people's economic anxieties for their gain. It is already happening.
After issuing guidance for reopening America that deferred decision-making to state officials, the president abruptly backtracked by calling for criminal acts against the governors for not opening fast enough. Trump tweeted, "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" followed immediately by "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and then "LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" And that was not all. Before a hasty reversal, President Trump and Vice President Pence both embraced Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to reopen some businesses in his state. This sentiment betrayed the very guidelines of his task force.
Why? President Trump, with his gaze always towards November, wants to exasperate tensions between those who want to go back to work, relax social distancing, and normalize the economy and those who want to follow the guidelines of medical experts and public health officials. He sees this as a Republican/Democrat issue, and as a legitimate strategy for defeating Joe Biden.
The President's strategy -- if one can call it that -- is an act of profound cynicism. Rather than leading our nation through this crisis, and keeping our house from falling apart, he has chosen to foment an insurrection against the duly elected Democratic governors of the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia. And it is only going to get worse.
As the nation experiences second and third waves of the virus, and as shelter in place guidelines are re-implemented periodically, tensions will increase, passions will be inflamed, distrust will spread, and tribalism will become even more prevalent. Although bad for our democracy and social unity in general, for a demagogue such as Trump, it makes for a fertile ground to sew discord. Oh, how we could all use a Lincoln right about now.
(George Payne is a freelance writer, social worker, adjunct philosophy instructor, and father of two. He lives and works in Rochester, NY. Payne has a master's degree in theology and philosophy from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.