The Long Presidential Journey from the Profound to the Petty

It’s November 19 and the man has spoken. The crowd is unimpressed.

That is all there is? Really?

Let’s face it. Our President is not what anyone would call widely admired. A few lawmakers in the Republican party, his party, are speaking out. More are said to be criticizing him bitterly in private. Even supporters see him as the most divisive leader the country has ever had.

George Templeton Strong of New York calls it for many.

A barbarian, a Scythian, a yahoo, a gorilla.

At this one event, you would think the President of the United States would have risen to the occasion.

It is not until his little two minute talk is published around the country that reaction begins to turn in his favor. On November 19, 1863, a two minute presentation has changed how we see our nation.

On the 150th anniversary, November 19, 2013, high school music teacher James Getty reenacts the address in Gettysburg.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The idea that a country could be dedicated to a proposition was not new to Lincoln. The famous debates against Stephen Douglas a few years before provided a studied contrast.

Douglas acknowledged the Declaration of Independence, but focused on the Constitution as the defining national document. What was legal must be accepted as moral necessity.

Lincoln acknowledged fidelity to the Constitution as the supreme instrument of law, but focused on the Declaration as the defining national document. What was clear moral necessity must be enshrined into law.

Fifteen decades later these very issues confront us still and the promise of America has yet to be delivered to too many of her children. So I ask myself, exactly what part of “all men are created equal” do we continue to fail to grasp?

That was LaVar Burton taking his turn, speaking in Gettysburg on November 19, 2016.

As Lincoln’s words have been elevated by time into a founding document, and Lincoln himself is seen as a national founder, a tradition of celebration has also evolved.

It seems remarkable, so many years later, that Lincoln’s words, and Lincoln himself, were held to such ridicule during his own life. Even more striking is that so much contempt came from his own side of the Civil War.

Lincoln defended his vision of a country as defined by an ideal. But I do not recall ever reading a response by Abraham Lincoln to the personal derision that was directed at him. It was as if it never occurred to him that his honor or reputation, or even his manhood ever needed defending. And so he never defended himself.

This year, this November 19, the 45th leader of our country maintained what has become a national tradition, this time illustrating by contrast the greatness of our 16th President, with these memorable words:

To be sure, LaVar Ball is a more deserving victim than many past targets of our President’s vitriol.

A tearful widow of a slain soldier feels the cold breeze of what she takes to be Presidential indifference.

The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways and I was — it made me cry … He couldn’t remember my husband’s name.

She earns an angry rebuke.

An American combat hero is killed saving fellow Americans. His Muslim father objects to Donald Trump’s blanket attacks on Muslims. Because the mother grieves in silence, Mr. Trump attacks her as a weakling.

If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, struggles through deep water to save as many American lives as she can. She pauses, in desperate anger, pleading for the President to do what he can to help.

His response?

It is as if every slight is a challenge to a fragile facade of the weakest side of humanity.

From November 19, 1863 to November 19, 2017 we have gone from a great national cause, a defining vision and new birth of freedom to a minuscule view of petty self-regard.

Each hair-trigger response of fire and fury is a reminder that we have seen greater days, a melancholy whisper of how far we have fallen.

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Hillary Resigns, Obamas United, Biden Back, Trump

Oh, by the way,

The Absurd Collapse of the American Ideal

We heard it as an impromptu bit of indelicate phrasing:

He was President, The World Trade Center came down during his reign.

Candidate Donald Trump, February 13, 2016

He was President, okay? Don’t blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was President.

Americans were taken aback at the brashness of the accusation, at the casual way it was tossed into the debate. President George W. Bush was responsible for the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

There was a factual basis for the accusation. It was not simply the most reported incident, the President’s Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001. A month before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush heard the summary which began this way:

Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US

It was not only his dismissive response:

All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.

The institutional temptation is understandable. A new administration assumes office promising a change in national direction. Warnings, even desperate warnings, from the outgoing administration are easy to brush aside. The pleas to deal with the threat of terrorism were dismissed with derisive laughter.

Bill Clinton and his National Security team had practically begged President Bush and his people to take international terrorism seriously. They were brushed off. Agents that had been focused on stopping attacks were reassigned. Budgets were reduced. Programs were discontinued.

Donald Trump had historical evidence on his side. The gasp at the attack on a fellow Republican, the last Republican President, went beyond his words.

Headlines were all variations of the same note:

Trump blames George W. Bush for 9/11

Even now the real significance is hidden in the shock of accusation. The candidate described the time the previous Republican President had spent in office this way:
Continue reading “The Absurd Collapse of the American Ideal”