Homage To Abe Lincoln, New Doty Land Podcast Is ‘Live’

A new episode of my podcast Doty Land is ‘Live”!

Indiana Confederate Civil War reenactor Mary Beeman takes us back in time, alerting listeners as to why living history is not only a remarkable way to explore the past but great for family fun, too. Host Gregory Humphrey underscores President Lincoln’s character as the Republican nominee casts his 1860 ballot in Springfield. Plus, a-not-to-miss book about Abe, as recommended by a modern-day president. With lively music and historical tidbits, we head back to the Civil war era while paying homage to Abe Lincoln.

Podcast Photo Doty Land

 

Checks And Balances Are Guardrails Against Donald Trump

I spoke with a Madison woman on the sidewalk a week ago about local neighborhood issues.  As we moved the conversation to national matters she spoke of great unease and anxiety among many people she knew concerning the crisis we now confront with impeachment.  She was not being partisan when she conveyed her feelings.   She was just giving voice to what I hear often when talking about national headlines.   Many are worried about the country.

From the start of this administration, I too have felt bewildered, frustrated, worried and at times almost dazed by the base level of words and actions coming from this White House.  There have been times the news is so awful I selected books from the shelves in our home concerning the Founding Fathers as an antidote.  Over and over my spirit is restored by the words and work of the Founding Fathers when they made sure the needed checks and balances were constructed within our Constitution.

We have James Madison, in large part, to thank for the checks and balances that are now taught in civics classes.  No president can accumulate power and fortify the Executive against the will of the people.  The separation of powers by co-equal branches of government allows for attempts at tyranny to be checked.

This week another chapter in our nation’s long political narrative will play out as public hearings start in the impeachment process concerning Donald Trump’s abuse of power.  It is clearly upsetting to many Americans because no one can be pleased with the necessity for such proceedings.  But at the same time, we must accept the umbrella of resolve that the Founders placed in the Constitution.  They read about and understood the nature of man.  They placed in that document a process to remedy those who would abuse the privilege of high office.

In many ways, the checks and balances over the past two and a half years have protected our nation.  Not with every issue, or to the degree that reasoned men and women would desire.  I say that with a sense of certainty not only in hindsight but also looking forward.  Reading history has proved that many dark nights confronted the nation and we still found the resolve to write another chapter as a people.

President Lincoln argued at the start of the Civil War that one reason it needed to be fought was to show to the world that our democratic experiment could not be so easily undone.  If democratic principles could not find success here, then where?  Those who would so carelessly undo the fabric of the nation had to be defeated.  And they were.

And so it is today.  When illiberal democracy presents itself in the populist themes used by this current occupant of the White House there is only one way to deal with it, and that is it must not be allowed to continue.

The United States has endured illiberal attacks from Trump concerning the Fourth Estate, the judiciary, FBI, CIA, along with a laundry list of other institutions.  But in each case, the resolve of the institution met the challenge of the time.  In each case, the built-in checks and balances have proved effective.  From freedom of the press to the patriotic men and women in the State Department, who have stepped forward to volunteer evidence in the impeachment proceedings, there are ample reasons to have faith in our ability to confront and win this latest battle for our republic.

While I can understand the anxiety felt by the woman on the sidewalk, along with all those others who have spoken with the same angst, I trust that after our conversation she also had a reason to hope.

I hold out that same desire to my readers of Caffeinated Politics.   We will write another shining chapter in our national story.  Just believe it.  And work to make it happen.

Playing To Bigotry In GOP Base With Colin Kaepernick Ad

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No one can ever say the GOP does not use every racial trick and dog whistle in the book when it comes to playing to their always angry base.

On Wednesday the National Republican Congressional Committee distributed a fundraising email.  It included an image of Colin Kaepernick in the email appeared side-by-side with President Trump.  The Kaepernick image seemed to have been altered to make Kaepernick’s skin tone appear darker.

Manually manipulating the photo so that he would look darker is just par for the course from a party that is demographically growing smaller by the year.  The only way to hang on to power is to use the most vile means available to them.  This fundraising attempt is just more proof of that fact.

The latest egg on the face of the GOP follows up on Kaepernick letting Nike know that a new shoe (Air Max 1) which showed the Betsy Ross Flag Air was objectionable.  The reason being that the flag is now used by extremist groups including white nationalists.

Instead of repudiating white nationalists the GOP darkens the skin of Kaepernick and asks for money based on racism. And the rest of us are asked to believe the GOP are not playing to the bigots in their party!

Republicans would love to have the African-American vote as they did in the aftermath of the Civil War.  But look at the exit polls from the past 12 presidential elections and the trouble of the GOP is abundantly clear.  The Republican candidate garnered only about 10 percent of the black vote, while the Democrat averaged 87 percent.  

It is clear that the party that gave America President Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation no longer exists. It is now the party of Trump along with a disturbing number of white supremacists.

Recalling When Today Was About George Washington And Abe Lincoln

As a boy the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were important days. Now there is the generic term Presidents’ Day. The catch all name does not have gravitas. To combat that, just a bit, I wish to call attention to a few books which I recommend regarding each of these men I came to admire over my lifetime.

When it comes to Washington the volume, which is on the bookshelves over my head, The Return of George Washington by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward Larson, is my first recommendation. I bought it two years ago at Mount Vernon, but what makes the book unique is that it deals with the time period after Washington stepped down as head and of the Continental Army. He had retired. Those years were not written about in detail before this volume.

As Washington watched how the Articles of Confederation were weak and not working he, along with Alexander Hamilton and other forward thinkers, knew what had to be done. While some worked under the flawed pretext that the Articles could be revamped, others like Washington knew the states needed to be brought into a union with law and order asserting itself from the top.  Wayward states were creating havoc, such as not paying off the war debt.  Washington in large part saved the United States by coming out of retirement to lead the Constitutional Convention and serve as our first president. We think of this today as events that ‘just happened’. That is a wrong way to view our history. Each step was perilous and the outcomes never inevitable.

On my bookshelves for decades has been Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald’s book Lincoln. It is a brilliant work which showcases the role that strong leadership plays in our national story, along with the need to keep principles front and center. It pounds these issues home with a robust narrative. When President Clinton was asked in one of his last interviews prior to leaving the White House which book he would recommend George Bush read, it was the classic by Donald.

The life and times of Abe Lincoln has been a constant source of confirmation that bold and decisive leadership, an abundant source of humor, and a natural curiosity are the essential ingredients to being a successful President. Time and again, in books both thin and those that stretch into volumes, it is clear that Abe Lincoln was a man of his times, and as noted at his death, now a man that belongs to the ages.

I also wish to mention the classic Lincoln by William Herndon, Abe’s law partner. My copy, though not an original, still is an old copy that I much treasure and it sits near me as I type this post. As I think about Lincoln, and how he grew up in truly poor conditions, and had few reading materials in his youth, I am sure he would be amazed at the many volumes, some more scholarly than others, that have been penned about his life and the impact he had on the nation. He loved to read, and as such I think the best way to honor Lincoln on his birthday is to consider books that might better illuminate his life.

So pick up a book and pour a cup of coffee and step back into history. Without knowing our past there is no way to understand current events, or plan where the nation should head.

Picture That Links Americans

This weekend one of those perfect political moments took place that transcends partisanship or any attempt at polarization.   It is one of those moments that we need more of in our country.

When Senator Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy for president a heavy snow was falling on the large assembled crowd in Minneapolis.   Amidst the cold temperatures, with people wearing a thicker layer of white on their hats and coats, flew the Red, White, and Blue.

It made for a political moment that stands out at a time when so much is layered with investigations, deadlocks, and chaos.  At the far other end of the spectrum, from all that is wrong, is a place where the heartbeat of a nation continues strong with hope for a brighter tomorrow.   That sounds trite, but in fact, it is the truth.

One of my favorite mental images from our past, that has stuck with me for decades, comes from the night in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln is elected president.  He is in Springfield and edgy about finding out how his fellow citizens have reacted at the polls.  Historians have written how he camped out in front of a cast-iron stove in the telegraph office, his long legs stretched outward, his lanky frame taking over the chair.  Waiting to know his future.

Scenes like that one, be it a mental concoction we create from the written record, or ones from this weekend where a heavy snowfall greeted a presidential announcement adds a sense of renewal, to what at times, seems flagging or in desperate need of help in the nation.

One need not be a supporter of Klobuchar, or even a Democrat to feel a mood that comes from the images yesterday.  Having loved history since the third grade, and continually striving to learn more, it comes as no surprise I love the imagery of our national narrative.   The photos of such moments can convey moods and information far faster than words.  And as I tell others, when we talk about such things, the more I look, the more I see.  And the more I feel.

Educators talk of such pictures in a more clinical sense as either being accurate documentary evidence or as distortions of history.  I certainly take those points to heart.  But it also needs to be noted there is an old-fashioned quality to many of the images that conveys a mood that seems lacking among the citizenry.  We need to find our commonalities again as a nation.

 

Donald Trump Not Quite Ready To Be A History Teacher–Needs To Read At Least One Book

Let me start with some analysis to this crazy news story.  And I can be punchy, short, and accurate all at the same time.

Donald Trump is abysmally stupid. How much dumber than Trump must his base be to take him seriously?

And as Paul Harvey would say, (with a lift in his voice on the last word) “now the news”.

Trump praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee while asking African American voters to “honor us” by voting Republican.  He actually made that comment while at an Ohio rally that featured an unexpected and provocative monologue on America’s Civil War history.

Trump regaled the Ohio rally of around 4,000 of his kind with nuggets such as Lee was a “true great fighter” and “great general.”   We know that Trump can be summed up as non-reading, lacking education, and incurious.  So of course he is an expert on HISTORY.

We also know that Lee was not only a slave-owner, but was a literal traitor to the United States.  It is that last point as to why I have a problem with statutes to Confederates.  They worked to undermine and destroy the Union.

Lee fought to destroy our union in defense of slavery. When his army invaded Pennsylvania any African American which was captured (even ones who had won their freedom) were put in chains and shipped down south.   I understand that military tacticians will argue he was a great general, but I argue that we should not glorify or praise him any more than we would praise German generals that fought for the Nazi’s.  There is a higher moral calling which we must always include when making assessments about those we wish to place on a pedestal. 

Trump also said President Abraham Lincoln (it should be noted only Trump on this blog does not get that title which every other person elected to the White House receives) once had a “phobia” of the Southern general.  Phobia is not a word historians associate with Lincoln’s feelings on Lee, but it is true the president was often frustrated by the slow pace of union progress.

Trump’s comments came during a rambling anecdote about Ohio-born President Ulysses S. Grant’s alleged drinking problems. “So Robert E. Lee was a great general. And Abraham Lincoln developed a phobia. He couldn’t beat Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee was winning battle after battle after battle.”

“And Abraham Lincoln came home, he said, ‘I can’t beat Robert E. Lee.  They said to Lincoln, ‘You can’t use him anymore, he’s an alcoholic.’ And Lincoln said, ‘I don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, frankly, give me six or seven more just like him.’ He started to win.”

My readers know I love history.  I adore President Lincoln.  I also have deep affection for facts.

What Trump missed was that long before Grant was selected by Lincoln the Union had claimed numerous early victories. In 1861, the North overwhelmed the South in the Battle of Big Bethel, Battle of Boonville and Battle of Hoke’s Run.  And one of the most decisive conflicts was the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. James and I visited that site in 2017.  Lee was vanquished in that battle and for Trump’s education I will add that the Union General who did that was George Meade, not Grant.

What these verbal stunts, such as the words from Trump in Ohio proves, is that this nation is experiencing a huge backlash to our first black President, a decent, caring, extremely bright man hated by every white supremacist in the land.

The south lost the Civil War which was fought over slavery.  Someone should tell Trump and his supporters the bad news.

And someone should break the news to Trump that African-Americans are not voting for the GOP.

Abe Lincoln’s Character Matters In Time Of Donald Trump

This is not overly long—–but most inspiring—given all that we find as headlines these days.  I only ask that you spend a couple minutes to read the following–and tell me that character does not matter.

Folks ask why I read history and I respond not only to learn but also to continually remind myself that we always make it through the times in which we live.  I know this will be a tonic for the soul.  At a time when we yearn for leaders with character……

**This article first appeared in the New York World on February 7, 1909.

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once regaled a Muslim chieftain in the Caucasus about the greatness of Abraham Lincoln.

Visiting Leo Tolstoi in Yasnaya with the intention of getting him to write an article on Lincoln, I unfortunately found him not well enough to yield to my request. However, he was willing to give me his opinion of the great American statesman, and this is what he told me:

“Of all the great national heroes and statesmen of history Lincoln is the only real giant. Alexander, Frederick the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Gladstone and even Washington stand in greatness of character, in depth of feeling and in a certain moral power far behind Lincoln. Lincoln was a man of whom a nation has a right to be proud; he was a Christ in miniature, a saint of humanity, whose name will live thousands of years in the legends of future generations. We are still too near to his greatness, and so can hardly appreciate his divine power; but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.

“If one would know the greatness of Lincoln one should lis- ten to the stories which are told about him in other parts of the world. I have been in wild places, where one hears the name of America uttered with such mystery as if it were some heaven or hell. I have heard various tribes of barbarians discussing the New World, but I heard this only in connection with the name of Lincoln. Lincoln as the wonderful hero of America is known by the most primitive nations of Asia. This may be illustrated through the following incident:

“Once while travelling in the Caucasus I happened to be the guest of a Caucasian chief of the Circassians, who, living far away from civilized life in the mountains, had but a fragmentary and childish comprehension of the world and its history. The fingers of civilization had never reached him nor his tribe, and all life beyond his native valleys was a dark mystery. Being a Mussulman he was naturally opposed to all ideas of progress and education.

“I was received with the usual Oriental hospitality and after our meal was asked by my host to tell him something of my life. Yielding to his request I began to tell him of my profession, of the development of our industries and inventions and of the schools. He listened to everything with indifference, but when I began to tell about the great statesmen and the great generals of the world he seemed at once to become very much interested.

“‘Wait a moment,’ he interrupted, after I had talked a few minutes. ‘I want all my neighbors and my sons to listen to you. I will call them immediately.’

“He soon returned with a score of wild looking riders and asked me politely to continue. It was indeed a solemn moment when those sons of the wilderness sat around me on the floor and gazed at me as if hungering for knowledge. I spoke at first of our Czars and of their victories; then I spoke of the foreign rulers and of some of the greatest military leaders. My talk seemed to impress them deeply. The story of Napoleon was so interesting to them that I had to tell them every detail, as, for instance, how his hands looked, how tall he was, who made his guns and pistols and the color of his horse. It was very difficult to satisfy them and to meet their point of view, but I did my best. When I declared that I had finished my talk, my host, a gray- bearded, tall rider, rose, lifted his hand and said very gravely:

“‘But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know some- thing about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock and as sweet as the fragrance of roses. The angels appeared to his mother and predicted that the son whom she would conceive would become the greatest the stars had ever seen. He was so great that he even forgave the crimes of his greatest enemies and shook brotherly hands with those who had plotted against his life. His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived.Tell us of that man.’

“‘Tell us, please, and we will present you with the best horse of our stock,’ shouted the others.

“I looked at them and saw their faces all aglow, while their eyes were burning. I saw that those rude barbarians were really interested in a man whose name and deeds had already become a legend. I told them of Lincoln and his wisdom, of his home life and youth. They asked me ten questions to one which I was able to answer. They wanted to know all about his habits, his influence upon the people and his physical strength. But they were very astonished to hear that Lincoln made a sorry figure on a horse and that he lived such a simple life.

“‘Tell us why he was killed,’ one of them said.

“I had to tell everything. After all my knowledge of Lincoln was exhausted they seemed to be satisfied. I can hardly forget the great enthusiasm which they expressed in their wild thanks and desire to get a picture of the great American hero. I said that I probably could secure one from my friend in the nearest town, and this seemed to give them great pleasure.

“The next morning when I left the chief a wonderful Arabian horse was brought me as a present for my marvellous story, and our farewell was very impressive.

“One of the riders agreed to accompany me to the town and get the promised picture, which I was now bound to secure at any price. I was successful in getting a large photograph from my friend, and I handed it to the man with my greetings to his associates. It was interesting to witness the gravity of his face and the trembling of his hands when he received my present. He gazed for several minutes silently, like one in a reverent prayer; his eyes filled with tears. He was deeply touched and I asked him why he became so sad. After pondering my question for a few moments he replied:

“‘I am sad because I feel sorry that he had to die by the hand of a villain. Don’t you find, judging from his picture, that his eyes are full of tears and that his lips are sad with a secret sorrow?’

“Like all Orientals, he spoke in a poetical way and left me with many deep bows.

“This little incident proves how largely the name of Lincoln is worshipped throughout the world and how legendary his personality has become.

“Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skilful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character. He had come through many hardships and much experience to the realization that the greatest human achievement is love. He was what Beethoven was in music, Dante in poetry, Raphael in painting, and Christ in the philosophy of life. He aspired to be divine—and he was.

“It is natural that before he reached his goal he had to walk the highway of mistakes. But we find him, nevertheless, in every tendency true to one main motive, and that was to benefit man- kind. He was one who wanted to be great through his smallness. If he had failed to become President he would be, no doubt, just as great as he is now, but only God could appreciate it. The judgment of the world is usually wrong in the beginning, and it takes centuries to correct it. But in the case of Lincoln the world was right from the start. Sooner or later Lincoln would have been seen to be a great man, even though he had never been an American President. But it would have taken a great generation to place him where he belongs.

“Lincoln died prematurely by the hand of the assassin, and naturally we condemn the criminal from our viewpoint of justice. But the question is, was his death not predestined by a divine wisdom, and was it not better for the nation and for his greatness that he died just in that way and at that particular moment? We know so little about that divine law which we call fate that no one can answer. Christ had a presentiment of His death, and there are indications that also Lincoln had strange dreams and presentiments of something tragic. If that was really the fact, can we conceive that human will could have prevented the outcome of the universal or divine will? I doubt it. I doubt also that Lincoln could have done more to prove his greatness than he did. I am convinced we are but instruments in the hands of an unknown power and that we have to follow its bidding to the end. We have a certain apparent independence, according to our moral character, wherein we may benefit our fellows, but in all eternal and universal questions we follow blindly a divine pre- destination. According to that eternal law the greatest of national heroes had to die, but an immortal glory still shines on his deeds.

“However, the highest heroism is that which is based on humanity, truth, justice and pity; all other forms are doomed to forgetfulness. The greatness of Aristotle or Kant is insignificant compared with the greatness of Buddha, Moses and Christ. The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moon- light by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years. Washington was a typical American, Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country— bigger than all the Presidents together. Why? Because he loved his enemies as himself and because he was a universal individualist who wanted to see himself in the world—not the world in himself. He was great through his simplicity and was noble through his charity.

“Lincoln is a strong type of those who make for truth and justice, for brotherhood and freedom. Love is the foundation of his life. That is what makes him immortal and that is the quality of a giant. I hope that his centenary birth day will create an impulse toward righteousness among the nations. Lincoln lived and died a hero, and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives. May his life long bless humanity!”

**This article first appeared in the New York World on February 7, 1909.

Where Does This All Lead America?

We all recall the famous line from Abraham Lincoln that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Lincoln made that statement prior to the Civil War as the emotions were boiling and the government was seen as not adjusting policies for the issues and the needs of the day.

Speed forward to 2018 and the mess that now greets us each morning as we reach for the paper on the front stoop and listen to the news on the radio.  Lincoln might now ask, if he were able to sit at our breakfast table and catch up on the events, how long a White House divided can presume to lead the world?

I listened to six different interviews with Michael Wolff on Monday and the problem is what he has written fits the daily narrative of what the citizenry knows to be happening by following the newspapers.  Some will attempt to deride the book or call it fiction, but the daily news from the past year forces us to reconcile with the content of this book.  Our government is in serious turmoil.

Some of the voting electorate placed a most ill-equipped man into the White House after a campaign of fear and cynicism.  That candidate is now a president who is increasingly cut off from reality.  To make things even more troubling Trump has a staff who, (in large part), are unprepared for governing, and worse still, tries to convince the public a madman is not in charge.

So as we start 2018 it is only obvious to ask our nation one question.

Where does it all lead us?