Why We Are Where We Are

Aug 27, 2020 by

by George Weigel, First Things:

By early March 1865, more than a million Americans had killed or wounded one another in civil war; the killing, wounding, and maiming continued for another month or so. Yet amidst that unprecedented carnage, Abraham Lincoln, at his second inauguration as president, called the American Republic to recompose itself in unity by means of magnanimity: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to. . . bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves. . .”

Those ineffable words, now engraved in his memorial in Washington, confront Americans with a hard truth: It is very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine either major presidential candidate, on January 20, 2021, echoing the sentiments of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. One candidate could not do so credibly because, whatever his personal amiability or claim to moderation, his party is committed to the inherent divisiveness of woke identity politics, and some of its most visible members loathe the idea that the American democratic experiment is a worthy one. The other would almost certainly not do so because magnanimity seems alien to his character and exacerbating division has become his habitual method of governance.

Lincoln’s command of the majestic rhythms of the English language is not easily replicable. But that’s not the issue, is it? It’s hard, verging on impossible, to imagine the president-to-be-inaugurated next January summoning the country to national unity through magnanimity because our political culture has become so coarsened that it cannot cast up presidential candidates capable of credibly making that kind of appeal. And one reason it cannot do so is that too many Americans aren’t interested in, or could not grasp the meaning of, any such summons.

How did we get here?

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