Newmann: It’s all in the message
On Nov. 18, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, a war-time president in the midst of the greatest civil conflict the country had ever seen, traveled from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His mission was to speak at the dedication of a cemetery for the almost 8,000 soldiers who had died in the Battle of Gettysburg in July of that year.
The next day, following a speech of almost two hours by Edward Everett, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a speech of 272 words, in a few minutes. The impact of the speech was not immediate at the time. But it was lasting.
The opening line stressed unity (“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth to this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”) as did the final words (… that these dead shall not have died in vain— that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”).
The address stands, along with his second inaugural address, as Lincoln’s greatest speech. In a deeply divided — and war-ravaged — country (almost 620,000 soldiers were to die in the four-year conflict), he sought to salvage unity and compassion. His speech at Gettysburg was an insight into the full measure of the man.
On Nov. 25, 2020, almost 160 years later, Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed war-time president (referencing his own equation of the pandemic to war), was scheduled to make a trip to Gettysburg to dispute the Pennsylvania election results (which had been certified for his opponent the previous day). The president was unable to attend in person but his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, did make the trip and attended a public hearing that was based on election “issues” and alleged “irregularities.”
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The absent president, not to be outdone, phoned in his claims that he had won Pennsylvania and, in fact, the entire election.
“This election was rigged and we can’t let that happen,” the president said. “We can’t let it happen for our country. And this election has to be turned around, because we won Pennsylvania by a lot and we won all these swing states by a lot.”
In an already divided nation, the president’s remarks only serve to create more divisiveness — especially since the results of the election have, for all intents and purposes, been settled. The country is already reeling from more than 264,000 pandemic-related deaths in less than a year and from the uncertainty of the future impact of the virus (neither of which topics have received much, if any, recent notice from the “war-time” president). Instead of hearing a call for unity and compassion, we’re left with hollow claims of a “rigged” election.
In a reference to his own place in history, the president, at an October rally in Pennsylvania, said, “You know we’re the party of Abraham Lincoln, a lot of people don’t know that. The great Abraham Lincoln, a man that I’ve always competed against.”
The president’s comments offer an insight into his full measure of himself.
And, perhaps, highlight a comparison he should refrain from addressing.
Tom Newmann splits his time between Beaver Creek and Queenstown, New Zealand. He has been going winter-to-winter since 1986. He was also a journalist in Missoula, Montana, at the Missoulian for quite a few years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.