Lincoln stood on the East Portico of the Capitol in 1865 and told a country that had lost a half million of its sons to war in less than four years that more pain was coming.
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
The heartbreaking message was clear: This isn’t over. But you’ve followed me here. Now follow me further through the pain of our collective sin of slavery.
Johnson, a Southern Democrat, whose party was the party of slavery, secession, Jim Crow and segregation, turned the political dynamics in America on a dime by insisting on the Civil Rights Act.
He lost the South, his political family, for 50 years.
FDR ordered 150 thousand Americans over the beach to liberate a continent with three thousand miles of ocean between it and us to defeat an enemy that posed no immediate threat to America.
Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive movement hammered the big business oligarchy of 19th America into submission so that we could build a society with the institutions suited to deliver on the promise of a modern liberal democracy.
Those are the hard things presidents have had to do in order to drive the history of America where it needed to go in order to develop us into the still flawed nation we are today. The men who had to do them were as deeply flawed as the nation they led. They were philanderer’s and racists and power hungry, glory seeking ego-maniacs.
But they understood something about the way the world works.
That the trouble with “winning at all costs” is the cost.
If you choose a path to your goal that tramples, divides, degrades or demeans all that stand in your path, you shouldn’t be surprised when those done harm don’t trust and can’t follow you.
And if the scope of people trampled underfoot is big enough, you may find it hard to get even the easy things done.
And impossible to do the hard things.
The word “can’t” is the operative one. Because it’s really hard, in good conscience, to ask some not unsubstantial portion of America, to support the agenda of the President of the United States of America because of his behavior or the message of his campaign.
That’s not un-American to say that. It’s human.
Presently, that list includes women, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, families with special needs kids and POWs.
That’s the list of people I don’t have a compelling argument to convince that they MUST support the current administration’s agenda, even if I were convinced that what they were proposing were the best thing for the United States of America.
That doesn’t mean that people in those groups don’t support him. Or that someone can’t go out and find some that do and hold them up as examples of people who value America over their own “fragile” feelings of personal identity.
It simply means that people in those groups have legitimate cause to not believe that the President has their best interests in mind because of things he’s done, said or tolerated within his campaign or administration.
The way red blooded middle America would have legitimate cause to not believe another candidate had their best interest in mind if he went on record calling them rapists, or were caught on tape saying how he was allowed to assault them because he’s famous.
There’s a painful secret though. Some of the things the administration is proposing are in the best interest of the United States of America.
Tax reform, health care reform, infrastructure development, entitlements reform.
Those are the hard things we’ll never get done because of intentionally divisive campaign strategies and self-inflicted wounds like hiring Paul Manafort or firing Jim Comey.
Just as a frame of reference, the only other FBI director ever fired was fired for stealing from the government.
The easy things like calling the widow of a fallen service member or having an honest conversation about the Civil War or issuing a message of calming unity or in the wake of a terrorist attack in Manhattan are met with resistance now. And it’s hard to fault those resisting.
Because when we personalize our criticism of opposition, we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s taken personally. And when we compromise all our values and play loose with our standard of personal character, we shouldn’t be surprised when no one believes us anymore.
Governments run on trust or fear.
One of those works best for those governed.
Who ever comes after what we have now, can’t forget the lesson of how impossible governing is when you lean on the wrong one of those to get elected.