Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lincoln, Trump and Mt. Rushmore, Part Three

My guess is, the price for a cameo appearance on Mt Rushmore for Donald Trump will include the need to bring together a dangerously fractured nation. He’ll have it easier than Lincoln did insofar as the brother-against-brother conflict today has not descended into anything like the shooting war Lincoln faced with hundreds of thousands of Civil War casualties. On the other hand Trump will have it harder in that Lincoln only had 30-odd million do deal with, whereas Trump is dealing with roughly ten times that number. 
That being said, Lincoln united a fractious country and revitalized democracy on this planet; here’s what the 2017 Trump needs to do to emulate the 1861 Lincoln:
·  Be humble; put the focus where it should be. Say, and mean, what Lincoln said on winning the Presidency for the first time [note: you’ve never, EVER heard anything like the following victory speech]:
‘I have been selected to fill an important office for a brief period, and am now, in your eyes, invested with an influence which will soon pass away; but should my administration prove to be a very wicked one, or what is more probably, a very foolish one, if you, the people, are but true to yourselves and to the Constitution, there is but little harm I can do, thank God!’
There are three components here - President, the people and the Constitution – it’s the President who’s subservient to the other two. [Woe to any President who thinks the Constitution and the people are subservient to him!]
·     Nobody is ever prepared for this job: get used to it! Remember the uproar caused by that infamous Taiwan phone call? I’m sure there was a big part of the Trump psyche that – understandably - protested, "Hey, it was just a phone call, so what's the big deal?" After all, real-estate investor Trump transformed the telephone into a deal-making tool worthy of a Mozart. And the fail-safe in his real estate world was, if the thing fell through, just move on to the next deal. But a phone call involving a bull-in-a-china-shop President, without any trouble at all, can cause, say, a trade war, or an international incident. Lincoln of course had a parallel problem. His was able consistently to win over 12 men good and true as a trial lawyer but with accession to the Presidency now he had 34 million to win over, many of whom were neither good nor true.
Conclusion: the talents that got a Trump or a Lincoln to the presidency aren’t the talents needed to succeed once you’re there. In other words the ONLY training for the job of President is on-the-job training! And that OJT demands a nimble mind capable of jettisoning prized but as-yet unquestioned assumptions.
·     A tin-pot dictator can demand compliance, but the leader of a democracy must entice cooperation. Like Lincoln, Trump will do that by first listening – he will need to be our Listener-in-Chief. Why? Because in a democracy a leader needs the buy-in of all the players, and that only happens when those same players are satisfied that they’ve been heard first.
That’s the reason for what Lincoln himself called “Public Opinion Baths.” They took place from 10 - 2 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 10 - 12 on Tuesday and Thursday. That’s a lot of quality presidential time. For the public it was a fairly simple arrangement: first come, first served. Usually Lincoln would greet each individual with “what can I do for you?” [Think Vito Corleone!] Then he would listen and would promise to do what he could if the request were reasonable. If he was in a hurry to get rid of someone, he would crack a joke and with both of them laughing would ease the caller out the door. Among other things, since these meetings happened so regularly Lincoln had a consistently firm grasp on the concerns of ordinary people. In addition, people felt like the President valued their concerns. And finally, these meetings served as a tonic in a city like Washington where overweening ambition and hypocrisy had – and, according to some people, still has - a way of warping facts beyond recognition.
Trump would do well to translate that 19th century Lincoln practice into a 21st century context on the assumption that if it worked for Lincoln it'd work for Trump.
If Trump does all that, he will have matched Lincoln’s “New birth of Freedom” with a “new birth of unity;” he will have earned the sincere gratitude not just of all the 2016 Deplorables but of all the 2016 Nasties as well. We'll all freely, and gladly, carve out a space for him on that ultimate bit of presidential real estate, Mt Rushmore, because, to quote a recent campaign slogan, he will have made America great again.

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 3

Lincoln once told the story of the sick man in Illinois ‘who was told he probably hadn’t many days longer to live, and he ought to make his peace with any enemies he might have. He said the man he hated worst of all was a fellow named Brown in the next village. So Brown was sent for, and when he came the sick man began to say, in a voice as meek as Moses’s, that he wanted to die at peace with all his fellow creatures, and he hoped he and Brown could now shake hands and bury all their enmity. The scene was becoming altogether too pathetic for Brown who had to get out his handkerchief and wipe the gathering tears from his eyes. After a parting that would have softened the heart of a grindstone, Brown had about reached the room door when the sick man rose up on his elbow and called out to him: “But see here, Brown, if I should happen to get well, mind, the old grudge stands.”’

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lincoln, Trump and Mt. Rushmore, Part Two

"... that all men are created equal." [Thomas Jefferson]

The Lincoln/Trump parallels.
·      In 2017 as in 1861, our political parties seem knee-jerk prone to emotional bumper-sticker arguments while the tough issues that actually cry out for intelligent, concerted action get kicked down the road for some other decade to grapple with.

·      In 2017 as in 1861, we gravitate to our news sources not for information but for ammunition; we label each other [of course with different labels] and then proceed to beat each other up because of the labels. [Think of it: your side plans and strategizes; the other side plots and schemes – right?]

·      And the Constitution we all purport to honor? In 2017 as in 1861 we, the body politic, continue to de-fang that priceless document before the end of the very first sentence: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”

A more perfect WHAT?

·      Conclusion: I think an argument can be made that democracy on this planet is at serious risk, in 2017 as in 1861.

We as a people cry out for political leadership that will unite us, not divide us.

[Come back for Part Three tomorrow]

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lincoln, Trump and Mt. Rushmore, Part One

Donald, are you up for the next challenge?
A wishful-thinker’s projection.

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump deserves our congratulations on successfully waging a campaign that should never have even seen the light of day. He’s not a politician but joined a field of 16 professional politicians, then picked them off one by one until, the last man standing, he nailed his party’s nomination.
Then in the face of polls that showed consistently, right up until the final 48 hours, that he would be obliterated by a vastly determined, well organized, well funded and experienced opponent, he pulled off one of THE great upsets in American presidential history.
Conclusion: the steeper the uphill struggle the more energized Trump became. Let me say that again: Donald Trump comes alive with a challenge.
So: what about another challenge?
Here we drift off into the world of wishful thinking. Stay with me, ok?
Trump has now joined an illustrious group of only 45 people who, since 1788, have held the office of President of the United States. How will he stack up against THAT competition?
That decision will be made by future generations, and there’s a list in place already. It gets revised periodically, of course. As the Trump presidency unfolds they’ll assign a place to him among that august group of 45.
He’d do well to look to one of the greats for guidance. And among great presidents the one whose challenges more closely parallel Trump’s is Lincoln.
Let’s imagine what in the Lincoln presidency Trump might imitate.
[Come back for Part Two tomorrow]

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 2

There was a long pause after Lincoln first read the original draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet; they were understandably silenced on hearing what was arguably the most profound, astounding document to issue from any presidential administration, before or since. Then eventually someone broke the silence with a suggested change. True to form, Lincoln came up with one of his signature stories. He said, 'Gentlemen, this reminds me of the story of the farmer who had been away from home for some days, and when he was coming back was met by one of his farm hands who greeted him after this fashion: “Master, the little pigs is all dead.” And, after a pause, “Oh, and the old sow's dead too, but I didn't like to tell you all at once.”'

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 1

Lincoln loved to tell this story about himself and Jefferson Davis. ‘“I think Jefferson will succeed,” said one Quaker woman. “Why does thee think so?” asked the second. “Because Jefferson is a praying man.” “And so is Abraham a praying man,” said the second. “Yes,” said the first, “but the Lord will think Abraham is joking.”'

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How others saw Lincoln 13

"I think well of the President. He has a face like a Hoosier Michelangelo so awful ugly it becomes beautiful with its strange mouth, its deep-cut crisscross lines and its doughnut  complexion. I do not dwell on the  supposed failures of his government. He has shown an almost supernatural tact in keeping the ship afloat at all. I more and more rely on his idiomatic Western genius."
- Walt Whitman