We’re not gonna slip back into that craziness. But history buffs and Lincoln fans will find Manisha Sinha’s take in the New York Review of Books resonant:
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln launched his campaign for the Senate seat from Illinois with his now famous “A House Divided” speech. While he did not predict disunion or civil war, Lincoln alluded to the country’s deep political divisions over slavery and concluded, “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.” . . .
Much history ensues — you remember the “Whigs” from your high school history class, and your “Know-Nothing” party (anything they didn’t want to know they dismissed as fake news), but here you will get a refresher — a good chunk of it in Lincoln’s own words:
. . . There were many other moving parts involved in the political disarray of the 1850s. One was the collapse of the so-called second-party system, in which each of the main political parties comprised of northern and southern wings were bound in a complicated alliance of forces. Another was the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. While Lincoln’s party, the Whigs, disintegrated under the weight of the sectional argument over slavery, the nativist Know-Nothing party took its place in many states, North and South. Lincoln memorably stated his position in 1855:
“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? 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 hypocracy [sic].”
In our time, the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US, exemplified by Republican support for Trump’s plan to build a border wall, has resurrected this ugly, persistent strain in American politics. (It is interesting to note, too, that even in Lincoln’s day, Russia made itself felt as a political presence, a rival model to American democracy.) Today’s efforts to obstruct immigration and citizenship for Dreamers have a precedent in the nativist Know-Nothing party’s initiative to restrict the path to citizenship for the large waves of immigration of the 1850s. Under the Trump administration, the Citizenship and Immigration Service has changed its mission statement from safeguarding “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” to promising enforcement of the nation’s immigration law. . . .
There’s much more — this is the New York Review of Books, after all — and it’s truly worth reading.
Meanwhile, Putin is winning — he and Xi.
(Get it? “He and Xi.” Xi is pronounced . . . oh, well, if I have to explain it . . .)
And we’re totally letting them.
Lincoln would have been appalled.
Today’s “party of Lincoln”? Not so much.
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