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.