Abe Lincoln’s lessons for modern politicians

WORK WITH DIGNITY: Abraham Lincoln has many lessons for the modern day
Picture: Gage Skidmore/CREATIVE COMMONS

Anyone remotely interested in American politics will know by now that, in spite of the best efforts of incumbent president Donald Trump to overturn the legitimate result of their November general elections, Joe Biden of the Democratic Party will assume the mantle of president on Wednesday.

Trump’s disgraceful last-ditch attempt to disrupt the American law-makers from affirming Mr Biden’s legitimate claim to the presidency by unleashing an unruly mob of his supporters on an assault of the nation’s political headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, drew worldwide condemnation and leaves an indelible stain on his legacy.

Millions of Americans and many governments will breathe a collective sigh of relief that they will see the back of undoubtedly the most divisive president in the history of that great democracy.

Yes, on Wednesday, January 20, Donald J Trump will leave the building, so to speak, and the new incumbent Joe Biden will attempt, slowly and diplomatically, to assuage and piece together a fragmented nation.

Over the past four years, like millions of other interested onlookers, I have been fascinated by the soap opera antics of the brash New York-born billionaire whose net worth is estimated at $2,5 billion, which should be enough to keep him off the dole for a while in case he finds it difficult to find employment.

For four years, Americans have been thoroughly bemused by this man’s arrogant and bizarre utterances, lies and resolutions; his acrimonious relationship with the media, constantly haranguing them for peddling “fake news” and issuing controversial decrees which include the unfortunate withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Climate Change Agreement aimed at limiting the impact of the threats to the world and to seek urgent solutions to combat future weather and climate disasters such as wildfires, floods, storms and locust swarms.

His cavalier disregard, too, for the protocols and consequences of Covid-19  has cost his country dearly while his utter disdain for the will of the people by refusing to concede defeat in the election flew in the face of all that is honourable in the American way of life.

These and other insane presidential debacles culminating in the final insult to the nation last week with the Capitol Hill assault which left a disbelieving America outraged. But somehow, the man possessed enough magnetism and charisma to attract 70 million votes.

In splendid isolation here at the tip of Africa I understand my opinion in the bigger scheme of things means diddly squat but it doesn’t prevent me from wondering what Abraham Lincoln, a fellow Republican and widely regarded as the greatest of all US presidents, would have thought of the present state of affairs in his beloved country.

Lincoln, in stark contrast to the flamboyant Trump, came to the White House from a humble rural background and was cut down in the prime of life in a theatre by an assassin’s bullet to the back of the head at point-blank range at age 56.

It reminded me of a thought-provoking sermon by the late Rev Reg James on agape love (altruistic Christian love) at St Martin’s church in Gonubie a few years ago in which he featured the great man. Lincoln, he said, had carried his opposing fellow-countrymen through the bloodiest war fought in the western hemisphere, carried them through and beyond to a lasting peace.

To illustrate agape love, Rev James mentioned that Lincoln had to contend with a man called Stanton who had the greatest contempt for him, and who said that no-one need go to Africa to capture a gorilla since one was to be found right there in Springfield, Illinois.

Lincoln said nothing. He appointed Stanton his War Minister because he was the best man for the job and treated him with every courtesy.

The years went by and then came the assassin’s bullet. In the little room to which the President’s body was taken, stood that same Stanton. Looking down on Lincoln’s stricken body and overcome by remorse, he uttered the memorable words: “Now he belongs to the ages. There lies the greatest leader the world has ever seen.”

It was one of those remarks which are as inspired as they are spontaneous and it pronounced his rightful place in the immortality of history. It illustrates perfectly Lincoln’s embracement of agape love and one for which we should all strive.

There was no personal glamour about the man, just a deep humanity begotten of his closeness-to-the-soil upbringing. In that he had much in common with our own former president Nelson Mandela – of the people, for the people and with a sincerity which many claim to be the first quality of a hero.

And behind and beneath it all was a love of humanity. He loved mankind, loved it and understood it as few men have done. How desperately does the world, particularly the United States of America, need an Abraham Lincoln today. He was no opportunist bereft of morals, principles and scruples.

As long ago as 1865 he fought hard for voting rights for black Americans and his primary aim was reconciliation for all.

To the last he maintained his natural meekness and when an angry woman once shouted from the crowd “he was just an ordinary fellow,” he replied. “Lady, the Lord loves ordinary folk. That’s why he made so many of them.”

So my sincere wishes go out to president elect Joe Biden and his Democrats as they prepare to start the healing process, lower the temperature, mend bridges and restore the tarnished reputation, respect and dignity of one of the greatest nations and to help find a salve for the terrible impact on the human spirit caused by this deadly virus sweeping the world.

A safe, healthy and happy New Year to all you GO! & Express readers.

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