Abraham Lincoln was elected President 162 years ago. Civil War buffs are looking back to these war years for lessons learned in the current debate over the stagnation of the American political process today. Historians say that there were two Americas-a house divided-back then. Do we find the same two Americas today?
Historian Philip Kennicott tells us that “The Civil War taught us, as a nation, our patterns of argument, our impatience with hypocrisy, our sense that every election is an apocalypse. It taught us how to be stupid, how to provoke our enemies, how to resist modernity, how to fight on after logic an argument have failed.”
Give Lincoln credit for believing that he had history on his side. His appreciation of history was not free will, but a belief that deterministic forces gave his view of America as an upward spiral of progress. As Kennicott suggests, “There is a pattern and a progress to history, rather than endless cycles of growth, violence and decay.” What Hegel viewed as a “grand process of the consciousness of Freedom.”
It was Lincoln’s vision of history that America was a special place on a historical path that transcended politics, economics and morality. For Lincoln, History for America had a capital H. He felt it imperative that political leaders of his time pass on to the next generation just what it means to be an American. The weakness of both national parties today is their failure to both grapple with and convey the premise that America cannot survive as the leader of the free world unless there is a “why “to survive.
Republicans and Democrats alike have not articulated what our country’s values are. Just what is it that makes this country exceptional with a system of government unparalleled in human history? I personally believe there is a uniqueness that gives our county a special place in the world today. And I would disagree with former President Obama, who said that America is exceptional to Americans in the same way Greece is exceptional to Greeks, and Germany is exceptional to Germans.
The vision of American exceptionalism can be found on any coin in your pocket. Three basic concepts. And no other country has these three. In God we Trust, E Pluribus Unum, and Liberty.
In God we trust? America was founded on the notion the God is the source of our values. That’s why the Declaration of Independence says we have inalienable rights. Not man given, not from humanism, not from great thinkers, but these rights have come from God. No God, then rights can be taken away by government. God is a central part of this country’s foundation.
E Pluribus Unum. From the many, one. We don’t care where you come from, or your color, creed, race or religion. If you stand with us to build this country, then you are one of us. From the many, one.
And finally, Liberty. The French also endorse liberty as a basic right. (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). But notice in the French version, freedom is adopted as a part of equality. Equality when you are born, and the right for government to give you equality as you grow old. The difference in America is that we all agree we are born equal, but then we are on our own to make ourselves what we want. Where you end up is your business.
Does anyone really feel that either national party has articulated a vision that makes America special? Far from it, we are a country divided today. Trump vs anti Trump, defund the police vs a crackdown on crime, right to abortion vs right to life, full gun rights vs gun restrictions, illegal aliens vs open borders, Red states vs blue states.
There are those who say America’s great experiment with democracy has run its course. I disagree. Our nation needs a much broader consensus of our culture and our belief. Voters are hungry for leadership and for someone or some party to define the “Why” of being an American. That would be the best way to have our nation truly stay on the right side of History.
Peace and Justice