On a warm summer’s day exactly 162 years ago, then-Republican candidate for Stephan Douglass’s Illinois senate seat, Abraham Lincoln, gave one of his most famous speeches. Lincoln’s “A House Divided” speech seemed to define the man’s political career as both a statesman and political philosopher, one who was willing to challenge the status quo in America because he saw the inherent flaws that would lead to its potential downfall. This speech would immortalize Lincoln both as the right man for the presidency two years later and as a man of moral courage and political incorrectness, as his law partner William H. Herndon would have put it. When looking at Lincoln, we cannot look at him as just the president who freed the slaves or the one who defeated the Confederacy. Instead, we must see him as the one who sought to preserve both the Union and our founding fathers’ belief “that all men are created equal,” even if doing so brought him just as many enemies as friends.
The United States finds itself in a similar position with an unprecedentedly politically polarized population and a Congress so divided that it can never seem to agree on anything. But most importantly, we have a potential modern-day equivalent of Abraham Lincoln: President Donald Trump, a president whose whole political career has centered on his political incorrectness and borderline moral indignation at the dealings of past administrations. Trump challenged the status quo of Washington and was elected on the promise that he would change things for the better for the American people. In him, many Americans saw someone who, unlike ‘true’ politicians in Washington, would defend America’s promise of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The American people are left with a choice to make. We can continue to divide ourselves with labels that we find convenient, urban-rural, liberal-conservative, Republican-Democrat, etc. Or, we can work together with a president who wishes to see meaningful change and pick the only label that matters: American. The past half-year has been an especially trying time for our country and one that showed the cracks in our society which began to form long before Trump took office.
We started the year with the most party-polarizing impeachment process that has ever graced the United States. A Democrat-controlled House began the impeachment, and many moderates campaigned on not being in favor of impeachment, even though they encouraged it when they were in office. The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t want to see the leader of their party impeached. The whole event did nothing to bring the country together, but instead was used as talking points from various heads in Washington and in the media to further divide the American people. To this day millions of Americans wish to see the President impeached and removed from office, and many of our representatives wish to restart the process of impeachment with whole new charges.
During the final weeks of this debacle, we also had our first glimpses of the now infamous COVID-19 and Trump’s first response to it. To mitigate potential infections entering the US from China, the Trump administration imposed travel restrictions on the country on January 31st. The very next day Trump was bombarded by tweets and talking points from those on the other side of the aisle calling this action racist and xenophobic. Over the next couple of weeks, this behavior encouraged large gatherings of people in an effort to go against Trump’s messaging. As news stations played Trump’s briefings of his handling in full, the American people began to approve of it and appreciated many of the things he had to say. Unfortunately, the public was quickly able to be swayed against him as the media began to cut away from his briefings. This type of rhetoric and actions is not only dangerous but irresponsible as well. This happened solely for partisan gain and bickering, and none of these groups wish to work with the president to solve this crisis.
Finally, we entered one of the ultimate tests of Trump’s presidency: deteriorating race relations and riots following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. What started as peaceful protests calling for justice and police reform turned into riots, looting, and the torching and destruction of businesses, police stations, and both private and public property in over 20 major cities and countless other smaller cities and towns across the country. Trump has been criticized both for doing nothing as cities burned, and for being too harsh on the “protestors” in an effort to stop the rioting. Because of these continuing protests, several mayors having lost control of their cities to city council members voting to defund the police department, protestors taking over several blocks worth of the city and declaring autonomy from all authorities (one now ruled by a warlord), or police threatening to quit if the harmful rhetoric against them doesn’t stop.
No one chose to say that we needed to work with the president who wants “law and order” so that people can continue to protest peacefully. Instead, it turned into a scenario in which you are either with the protestors or with the police and systematic racism plaguing this country. Just now a Wendy’s was burned to the ground because a rioter/rioters couldn’t wait to find out why Rayshard Brooks was killed before making a decision, only seeing the incidents as another example of racism and police brutality against black Americans. Now is the time in which we must realize that this precious Union is fragile and one that we must keep united. We are a nation built upon the trust and bonds we have with our friends, family, and neighbors. If those can break apart because of a single president’s desire to improve this country and encourage its ideal, then I fear what a second disuniting will result in.
Seeing as how many wish to continue down a path of partisanship and worsening discourse in the country, I have a request to the American people. Turn away from the news and pay no attention to the talking points. Wait for all of the facts to come in before making a decision, and try listening to our president. Listen to him unfiltered and without the interruptions of those who only wish to see him fall. I may not have the wisdom that my parents and grandparents gained through years of experience; all I have is a love for our country and intuition that says that Trump wants to change it for the better. Though we may not like him, in order to avoid further dividing ourselves to the point of violence against each other, we must rally around him and work to better our country together.
I do not know what the future may hold for the United States or how Trump’s presidency will completely affect it, but perhaps if President Lincoln were around today he would remind us of this poignant part in his House Divided speech:
“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”
Illustration credit to Bella Peters