Tuesday, January 31, 2017

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 8

Lincoln liked to tell the story of a seedy fellow asking Secretary of State Seward for a consulate in Berlin, then Paris, then Liverpool, eventually coming down to a clerkship in the State Department. Hearing these places were all filled, he said, 'well, then, can you lend me $5?'

Sunday, January 29, 2017

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 7

Like the rest of Lincoln’s cabinet Edwin Stanton was gifted with massive talent, and as a necessary corollary, had an ego the size of a barn. Indeed, some of Lincoln's closest friends voiced their concern to Lincoln that Stanton just might go too far and try to run away with the whole concern.  Lincoln, however, was curiously unfazed by their concerns. He drawled: “we may have to treat him as they are sometimes obliged to treat a Methodist minister I know of out West. He gets wrought up to so high a pitch of excitement in his prayers and exhortations that they are obliged to put bricks in his pockets to keep him down. We may be obliged to serve Stanton in the same way, but I guess we'll let him jump awhile first.”'

Friday, January 27, 2017

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 6

At one point during the war Lincoln was forced by his cabinet to confront the realization that many people who were thought to be Unionists were actually spies providing key information to the Confederacy. After presenting the evidence, Secretary of War Stanton asked for direction. Lincoln, who had been silent and visibly disturbed, expressed his feelings with a story about the dilemma of an old farmer who had a very large shade tree towering over his house. 'It was a majestic-looking tree and apparently perfect in every part – tall, straight and of immense size - the grand old sentinel of his forest home. One morning while at work in his garden he saw a squirrel run up the tree into a hole and thought the tree might be hollow. He proceeded to examine it carefully and - much to his surprise - he found that the stately tree that he had valued for its beauty and grandeur to be the pride and protection of his little farm was hollow from top to bottom. Only a rim of sound wood remained barely sufficient to support its weight. What was he to do? If he cut it down it would do immense damage with its great length and spreading branches. If he let it remain his family was in constant danger; in a storm it might fall or the wind might blow it down and his house and children be crushed by it. What should he do? As he turned away he said sadly, “I wish I had never seen that squirrel.”’

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 5

An old friend from Springfield after an evening in the White House asked Lincoln, 'How does it feel to be President of the Unites States?' Lincoln replied, 'you have heard about the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked him how he liked it, and his reply was that if it wasn't for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk.'

Monday, January 23, 2017

“That Reminds me of a Story…” 4

At one Cabinet meeting Lincoln had all his counselors but one against him. He told them he was ‘reminded of a revival meeting in Illinois when a fellow with a few drinks too many in him had walked up the aisle to a front pew. All eyes were on him, but he didn't care; he joined in the singing, droned amen at the close of prayers, and as the meeting proceeded dozed off to sleep. Before the meeting ended the pastor asked the usual question: “Who are on the Lord's side?” and the congregation arose en masse. When the pastor asked, “Who are on the side of the Devil” the dozing sleeper came to, heard part of the question, saw the parson standing, and rose to his feet to say “I don't exactly understand the question but I'll stand by you, parson, to the last. But it seems to me that we're in a hopeless minority.”'

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How others saw Lincoln 12

'Lincoln's strength is of a peculiar kind; it is not aggressive so much as it is passive, and among passive things it is like the strength not so much of a stone buttress, as of a wire cable. It is strength swaying to every influence, yielding on this side and on that to popular needs, yet tenaciously and inflexibly bound to carry its great end; and probably by no other kind of strength could our national ship have been drawn safely thus far during the tossings and tempests which beset her way. Surrounded by all sorts of conflicting claims, by traitors, by half-hearted, timid conservatives, he has listened to all, weighed the words of all, waited, observed, yielded now here and now there, but in the main kept one inflexible, honest purpose, and drawn the national ship through.' 
- Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sunday, January 8, 2017

How others saw Lincoln 11

'The world has seen and wondered at the greatest sign and marvel of our day, to-wit, a plain working man of the people, with no more culture, instruction or education than any such working man may obtain for himself, called on to conduct the passage of a great people through a crisis involving the destinies of the whole world... '
- Harriet Beecher Stowe

Friday, January 6, 2017

How others saw Lincoln 10

Charles Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, once told the president that his young daughter wanted to be introduced to the President. Lincoln walked over, took up the girl, kissed her and talked to her. The scene seemed remarkable to Dana because important men of high office usually lack natural and easy grace in handling a child. With Lincoln Dana noticed the child felt easy. 
Without knowing it Lincoln had passed an acid test!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How others saw Lincoln 9

In 1858 when Stephen Douglas, the powerful leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, ran for re-election against Lincoln – victoriously, as it turned out – he knew he was up against a formidable opponent. ‘Every one of his stories seems like a whack upon my back,’ said Douglas. ‘… Nothing else – not any of his arguments or any of his replies to my questions –disturbs me. But when he begins to tell a story, I feel that I am to be overmatched.’

Monday, January 2, 2017

How others saw Lincoln 8

In 1861 the British minister to the United States, Lord Richard Lyons, dismissed the newly inaugurated Lincoln as 'a rough farmer' who displayed 'an ignorance of everything but Illinois village politics.'