I’ve been reading an excellent book on US President Lincoln and his amazing political skills. I’ve had a fascination with him ever since I had to do a presentation on him way back in Middle School. He’s a major part of why US History was one of my favourite subjects in High School; the section of the class that dealt with the Civil War was fascinating.
Though I knew the essential basics of his life story, there was much I was ignorant about, both regarding events in his life as well as his great personality and character.
I’ve been overwhelmed with grief at some of his trials and personal losses, and been unable to resist laughing at some of his anecdotes and jokes, even reproduced solely through text.
Reading the book has been thoroughly enjoyable. However, as I read a certain passage I was visited by a troubling thought: This reminds me of Donald Trump.
Here is the passage in question:
“In fact, the publication of the entire letter received excellent reviews.
‘Disclaiming the arts of the diplomatist, the cunning of the politician, and the graces of rhetoric, he comes straight to the points he wants to discuss,’ praised the New York Daily Tribune.
‘The most consummate rhetorician never used language more pat to the purpose,” the New York Times declared, “and still there is not word in the letter not familiar to the plainest plowman.”
I recently watched a video by John Oliver on Donald Trump. I can’t say I was very impressed by it, though it’s been received very positively on the (rather liberal) Internet circles I participate in. There were several things about it that I disliked, such as the ridiculous slacktivism it encourages (making fun of a variation of his last name? seriously?), but what left me most unimpressed was Oliver lambasting Trump for saying “I know words; I have the best words.”
Sure, that particular quote sounds rather silly, but the underlying commentary, that we should laugh at Trump for using simple language doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Not only does it sound too close to elitism for my taste, it also ignores the fact that the vocabulary Donald Trump uses in his speeches is completely intentional.
I’ll continue developing my point in a minute, but for now I feel the need to attempt to diffuse of the anger I imagine some people might be feeling towards me for comparing Donald Trump to Abraham Lincoln.
Let’s make something clear: though I noticed a particular similarity between the two men, they clearly do not share too much in common.
For one, Lincoln’s famed honesty cannot be even jokingly compared with Donald Trump’s barefaced lies, and his practice of denying his own contradictions even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Honest Abe was well-known for being frank in his dealings with people, and of thinking very carefully before saying or doing anything. Obviously Trump does not do the latter, though he does an excellent job of simulating the former. He might be lying through his teeth every other sentence, but he is an expert at making every word he says have a ring of truth. Forthrightness is very easy to confuse with truthfulness.
Secondly, Trump’s appalling attitude towards Muslims and, one suspects, anyone who isn’t a white Christian, contrasts poorly when you look at the man who once scathingly wrote:
“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes”
When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy”
As well as, you now, that other piece of writing he’s well-known for.
Abraham Lincoln was a kind man, with humility and empathy at the core of his very being. In the words of Frederick Dougass, “I will tell you how [Lincoln] received me—just as you have seen one gentleman receive another.” He would later go on to say that of all the men he had met, Lincoln was the only one to treat him without condescension, and to make no reference towards his race.
Donald Trump on the other hand… well, let’s not go there.
I trust I won’t have to go on. Clearly the two men are made of completely separate stuff, and I hope no one believes I am trying to say otherwise. With that said, let’s continue.
Back to our argument. Criticism of Donald Trump’s use of language is ludicrous. Comments calling him stupid warrant nothing short of ridicule in response. Donald Trump is a very clever man. Sure, he’s a hateful man and a lot of his opinions are indefensible, but he isn’t wanting in the brains department.
Why does he speak that way? Well, obviously to make himself more relatable to the average American. Just like Abraham Lincoln, he is an expert at using words so simple “the plainest plowman“ can understand. They both speak the way they do to make themselves seem more similar to the average person, to make it easier to connect with people.
Trump happens to be very charismatic. Have you ever actually listened to one of his speeches? Even being diametrically opposed to just about everything he says and believes, I can’t help but recognise how he makes you feel at ease, and how easily he makes people laugh.
That was another huge strength of Lincoln’s. No matter who he was talking to, or in which context, he had a gift for making people relax and enjoy themselves.
Donald Trump also excels in his appearance of honesty. As stated previously, he’s a serial liar, but he has a manner of expressing his mind that resembles honesty and makes people trust him.
Just like Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire victory speech was electrifying because he dared to say the things you never hear politicians saying, Trump’s candidness can be refreshing. I don’t like the man at all, but I’ve found myself enjoying a few moments in his speeches, when you realise he’s forgoing social rules in a way you sometimes wish you could.
Yes, he engages in hate speech very frequently, but even that can feel somewhat nice, compared to the snake-like politicians who hold the same horrible attitudes but pretend to be accepting. If I appreciate the way he avoids a false act of decency, you can imagine how well his words are received by people who don’t necessarily disagree with those ideas.
Straight white people are oppressed.
Haha, nah, nevermind. Obviously that’s not true. However, something doesn’t have to be the truth for people to believe it. As ridiculous as that sentence is to me and anyone likely to read this blog post, there are people who honestly believe it. Why?
This is a bit reductive, but it’s mostly because these people hold hateful beliefs. However, I would argue it’s also due to the way these people are treated by others for those beliefs. To cite a passage of Lincoln’s again, he says it [is] the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”
Something I loved learning about Lincoln is the way he spoke of people with alcohol dependance and slaveholders. He said of the former that “such of us as have never fallen victims, have been spared more from the absence of appetite, than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have.” Regarding Southerners who clutched to slavery with such desperation as to destroy the Union, he would write that he could not criticise them too harshly since he didn’t know whether he would be much better were he to have been in their position.
I do not think human nature has changed much in the last 200 years. I’m of the same belief as Lincoln; I do not think imperious condescension is the best way to help people.
Without defending alcohol abuse or slavery, Lincoln argued that people should be treated with respect and decency, and I believe the same applies to people now.
There are many people with horrible, horrible opinions. However, they are still people. Without agreeing with their opinions, I can understand their anger and bitterness at being called a series of names, and shut down every time they try to speak. I disagree strongly with the way people talk down to them. For their obsession with privilege, some people don’t appreciate the privilege of being raised or taught to let go of certain prejudice and hatred.
I’m a trans woman, and a feminist who feels very strongly in favour of people who are not heteronormative. However, I do not have much hope I would hold such progressive beliefs if I’d been raised by a pair of super racist parents in, say, South Carolina. Like Lincoln, I think much of who I am and what I believe is more down to circumstance than me being better than others.
Here are the facts: There is a large group of people raised with certain values in a certain culture. These people believe these values and their culture are righteous. They experience much anger and hear nasty words about their values from another group of people.
Yes, these values are, in case I haven’t said it enough, indefensible and hateful. I experience prejudice and judgement from people like that every single day of my life.
As awful as their beliefs are, they do not think that. From their point of view, they really are facing persecution and negative consequences because of what they believe. Is it any wonder they rally behind a man who instead of condemning who they are, shares their opinions?
Imagine being a racist, homophobic jerk. No, seriously. Let’s flip the situation around. Pretend that in the last 100 years, slavery has slowly started becoming socially acceptable. Some foreign countries have reinstated it, and more and more people have come to accept it. How horrified would you be if 9 months ago, the Supreme Court had decided slavery was actually totally OK?
I’m getting sick of doing this, but once again, no I don’t think gay marriage is anything like slavery. Of course they aren’t similar. Obviously there is a difference between stopping institutional abuse of people’s basic human rights and encouraging it. I simply offer the example as a way to try to understand where those people are coming from. They earnestly believe things like gender equality and acceptance of LGBT people are as evil as you and I would see slavery.
Here’s the thing: People are not Pokémon cards. Supreme court decisions or societal acceptance isn’t like ‘playing for keeps.’ Just because a ruling went a certain way, people’s minds won’t be forced to change. If slavery had been legalised in my imaginary scenario above, you wouldn’t suddenly think it was okay. You would only get angrier and more upset every day.
I am guilty of celebrating how I imagined ‘those people’ reacting when they heard of last year’s SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage. I made the mistake of not realising they would continue to live, and that ignoring them and their views wouldn’t make them go away.
Donald Trump has been their saviour. The opinions that have been shut down over and over never went away, and Trump is finally allowing them to express themselves. All the great civil victories of the last 100 years have not eradicated these people, it’s only made them easier to ignore. The problem is that they aren’t going away, and after all this time they are relishing the chance to be open about it.
In their eyes, Donald Trump stands for freedom of speech and for their values.
Why do people like Trump?
Because we have judged people without empathy or respect. No, I have judged people without empathy or respect. I’ve delighted in their suffering and frustration. I’ve enjoyed the thought of their frustration at the way the world is going.
Instead of trying to educate them kindly and being patient, understanding I would likely be the same way in their position, I have often acted as if I am somehow better than them.
People like Trump because of people like me.
I hope no one launches any personal attacks towards me simply because they disagree with anything I’ve said here.
Please understand this post is more me trying to write down something I’ve been thinking, and is more me rambling than expressing something I firmly believe.
That said, I’d quite like to hear your disagreements or thoughts on the post.