Abraham Lincoln Warned Us About Donald Trump

Abraham Lincoln knew Donald Trump. Although he may not have known Trump by name. he most certainly knew the man.

Lincoln, perhaps this nation’s greatest president, knew something back in 1838 that we need to understand today. At the time, the United States was moving toward one of the most dangerous and divisive periods in our country’s history. The politics of the day were polarized, pitting southern slave-holding states against those in the north who supported the abolition of slavery. Tensions were running high, and there was talk of a potential civil war.

In a speech before the Young Men’s Lyceum, Lincoln uttered the now famous lines, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” To Lincoln’s mind, the threat was internal. And he understood that we could either be a nation committed to laws or a nation committed to a single man or political party. We could not do both.

Even back in 1838, the future president knew that a demagogue like Donald Trump was more likely to destroy our democracy than an invasion by a foreign power. At the time, Lincoln was just 28 years old, but he saw clearly how an un-American agitator like Trump could lead his followers to commit acts of violence and lawlessness. Speaking about those who would break the law (or encourage others to do it for them), Lincoln said, “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.”

Lincoln did not believe that all laws were good. In fact, just the opposite. He made a habit of speaking out against laws he felt were wrong. But he believed in the importance of the rule of law to our democracy, and he believed that there was a proper procedure that must be followed to challenge and repeal bad laws. It was the Constitution, Lincoln contended, that must always be followed, because he felt that it was the Constitution that guaranteed our democracy. To abandon it was to abandon the very democratic underpinnings of our society.

Lincoln believed that people who, in another time, might help build the nation, would, in times when no foreign power threatened the United States, turn their energies toward tearing the country apart. As historian Heather Cox Richardson writes, “With no dangerous foreign power to turn people’s passions against, people would turn from the project of ‘establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty’ and would instead turn against each other.”

The time for passion was during the country’s founding. Something new was being created and passionate energy was necessary for its creation. However, once the country and the rule of law were established, the time for passion was over. Instead, what was needed to maintain and strengthen what had been created was “sober reason.” Lincoln encouraged the men of his day to display “general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.”

Why do I say that Lincoln warned us about Donald Trump? Consider this:

Donald Trump is facing 91 felony charges, has been indicted in four different jurisdictions, his business has been found to have committed fraud, and he was found liable for sexual assault and defamation in a civil suit that has him on the hook for $88.3 million. Yet, Trump’s support remains strong, and he is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in this year’s upcoming presidential election. Among the policies and programs he has promised to pursue if he is re-elected include:

  • Nationwide abortion ban
  • Prosecution and imprisonment of his political enemies (including Republicans who have been critical of him)
  • Mass deportation of illegal immigrants and naturalized American citizens
  • Ending birthright citizenship (even though it is provided for in the Constitution)
  • Suspension of broadcast licenses for CNN, MSNBC, and any other broadcaster that is critical of him and/or his policies
  • Concentration-style camps for illegal immigrants
  • Stricter voting laws making it harder for people to vote
  • Use of the military to quell protests and unrest over his policies
  • Suspension of the Constitution when it prevents him from carrying out his agenda
  • Replacing career government workers with Trump loyalists

And the list goes on.

These are the types of acts that Lincoln warned against. They are designed to consolidate and exercise power for the good of Trump and his inner circle rather than being true to the Constitution, the rule of law, or our democracy. In other words, Trump’s campaign promises do not honor the Constitution nor the country’s values and traditions. Instead, they are designed to override and replace both the Constitution and our democracy.

Donald Trump and his supporters/enablers are a far more dangerous threat to the rule of law and democracy than any foreign power, including Russia, China, and Iran. No country on planet Earth has the wherewithal to destroy the United States militarily. But Donald Trump and the Republican Party are not only capable of tearing down everything we have built up since our founding, they are poised to do just that if Trump is re-elected in November.

Abraham Lincoln understood this possibility. The sooner we all understand it, the sooner Trump can be stopped.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *