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Abraham Lincoln on the Suicide of America

Marvin J. Folkertsma · Jan. 18, 2018

If politics is downstream from culture, as Andrew Breitbart famously quipped, a corollary could be that hatred for President Trump is downstream from hatred for America. Why is this the case? Donald Trump represents everything the political Left despises — patriotism, capitalism, economic growth, respect for Christianity, control of borders, contempt for elite media, energy independence, indifference to the fantasies of anthropogenic climate change, and generally, bullishness for Western Civilization and the United States. To top it off, Trump fights back; unlike generations of Republican political wusses whose souls melt into Obama-lite at the slightest hint of criticism, Trump’s fingers smoke the keyboard with comebacks, mostly charging his critics with “fake news,” that is, unabashed lying. No one’s ever done that before, and America’s elite is enraged, descending to Edgar Allan Poe levels of madness, as their mouths froth with unprecedented vituperation.

If Trump represents what leftists yearn to destroy, reasons why America’s cultural elites in media, academia, entertainment, and government despise their own country need to be understood. This question has baffled observers for the past century, since Woodrow Wilson declared that he wanted to hang his opponents from scaffolds that scraped the clouds, but the matter has become especially intense and serious since the 1960s cultural revolution. Dennis Prager suggested that the core of the problem is judgment: “The Left hates standards — moral standards, artistic standards, cultural standards. The West is built on all three, and it has excelled in all three. Why does the Left hate standards? It hates standards because when there are standards, there is judgment. And leftists don’t want to be judged.”

This sounds reasonable enough, except even the most hideous leftists — Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot — had standards; it’s just that their standards were perverse and unimaginably evil. More likely, leftists embrace standards but don’t want them to be applied to themselves, which comes close to Prager’s position. Thus, progressives gush about unlimited illegal immigration, provided the unwashed don’t settle in their own neighborhoods; they praise public education, while sending their own children to private schools. Democratic congressmen slobber over affirmative action, unless it applies to their own offices; they bray about Obamacare while being exempt from its provisions. And they insist on eliminating guns in America, except for their own bodyguards. This list can be extended indefinitely.

The most insightful answer to the question about leftist anti-Americanism is found in an address given by Abraham Lincoln at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, on Jan. 27, 1838. The young Lincoln inveighed against the “mobocratic spirit” in defiance of democratic governance by established laws — a position that contemporary leftists hold in contempt: witness campus mobs shutting down universities, rioters given free rein by authorities to obliterate central cities, and bureaucrats functioning as legislators, executors, and judges in their domains. Lincoln’s exhortation to revere our democratically passed laws is repulsed by many deafened ears in today’s America.

But Lincoln’s most important observation cut to the heart of motivations that propel generations following the Revolutionary War and is worth quoting in full. America’s first round of political leaders tethered their reputations to “an undecided experiment,” and “all that sought celebrity and fame and distinction expected to find them in the success of that experiment. Their all was staked upon it; their destiny was inseparably linked with it.” They succeeded: “Thousands have won their deathless names” in achieving that success. Here comes the crucial part of Lincoln’s analysis: “But the game is caught; and I believe it is true that with the catching end the pleasures of the chase.” What comes next, then? Here is what Lincoln had to say:

Many great and good men, sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story upon the monuments of fame erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving freemen…

Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm, yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down (emphasis added).

No truer words were ever uttered in the history of American statesmanship.

Which brings us to the present. Leftists’ monotonous excoriation of America cannot be taken seriously by anyone acquainted with a country that saved the globe from totalitarianism three times during the 20th century, that attracts peoples from around the world to enter its territory, and that has done its best to address historical wrongs. What Lincoln understood and what current America-haters are incapable of grasping is that the fuel that feeds the fire in their minds spews from ambitions “set boldly to the task of pulling down” the structure later characterized by Lincoln as the “last best hope of earth.” No foreign enemy will vanquish America, Lincoln said. Rather, “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.”

Every policy advocated by the political Left in America today pushes toward that end — the absurdity of multiculturalism, phony alarmism of climate change, imposition of thought control, disdain for Christianity, contempt for ordinary citizens, embrace of authoritarianism — all proceed from the political psychology adumbrated by Abraham Lincoln 180 years ago.

Which leaves us with one question. Can America survive the depredations of the country’s leftist elites? In short, can the United States prevent itself from committing suicide?

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