Each night of the Republican National Convention I will feature a Republican from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump. Tonight Abraham Lincoln is the man I showcase and the topic is leadership and empathy. (Monday night I focused on the need for character, and shone a light on Gerald Ford.) Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War ran in sharp contrast to how Donald Trump has abdicated responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. What Trump calls ‘his war’.
Even the most jaded high school history student knows the first year of the Civil War was beset by failures from the Union Army to marshall their military might and demonstrate the capacity to engage the Confederates. Bull Run is the most prominent battle in 1961 and it was not a success for Lincoln.
The generals of the North were not always known for aggressive behavior. This led Lincoln to undertake a responsibility within the White House in waging the war. He often changed generals and even championed a more forward-leaning engagement with the South in 1962. But how he came to the point where he felt comfortable within his own skin to use his office in such a manner is due to one factor that speaks volumes about Lincoln.
Lincoln had limited military experience from his time with the Black Hawk War. Earlier this year readers might recall my recommendation of A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal where that period of Lincoln’s life is researched and written about in detail. So to fill in the empty places of his education Lincon got his hands on each and every military text he could find. He then read and studied them. He then consulted with his military advisors and learned from experts.
All of that is diametrically opposite of how Trump has handled the pandemic, which as of this writing, has killed almost 178,000 Americans. By not immersing himself in the science and data, or heeding the advice of professionals in this nation we have all paid a price. While having 4% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s COVID-19 cases.
What we have witnessed is not only Trump’s desire to take no responsibility in dealing competently with the virus but also to not show any empathy with a staggering loss of life among the citizenry.
Lincoln, on the other hand, wore empathy on his sleeve. There could be a book on nothing other than Lincoln’s ability to put himself in the place of another, and the result would be a tome too heavy to lug around. If you want to be moved emotionally read the accounts of mothers who met with Lincoln and urged that their sons not be sent to war and how it pained him so much. Or read the words of his personal assistant, John Hay, regarding how Abe lingered long and hard over letters about those sentenced to die.
What we lack today in the White House is a reader, a thinker, or any semblance of empathy. The end result, as we have witnessed, is a lack of leadership.