Community Forum: With malice toward none

By Mary Holway


As the American Civil War dragged to its excruciating conclusion, an exhausted Abraham Lincoln said the following in his second inaugural speech:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, 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 and with all nations.”

Americans were confused and defeated by the horrors of the Civil War and by the issue of slavery that tore the union apart. Yet Lincoln was able to uplift the destroyed American soul by restoring hope in the American spirit and by calling upon Americans to heal themselves by caring for one another. Throughout American history, leaders such as FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan, and Martin Luther King have risen to lead America through difficult times by upholding the democratic values of liberty, civility, the rule of law, balance of power, equality, tolerance and justice for all. At the same time, all of these leaders, throughout their various and different eras, faced outcry and opposition from those whose political views vehemently differed from their own. It’s not unusual to have differing ideological viewpoints. But it is unusual to hate those with whom you disagree.

In the current time of divisiveness, we have elected an unusual leader in President Donald Trump. His behavior is abnormal for that of an American president and his style of representing America both at home and abroad is anything but standard. He does not follow decorum, norms or even laws that are set in place to check the powers of the executive branch of government. Seldom if ever does this President mention the principles and values that lay at the foundation of our democracy. Instead we are issued daily hostile tweets that pound a relentless drum beat of campaign lies and childish personal attacks to anyone he does not like or perceives as a threat.

Clearly, the division between our political parties and our culture in general has widened and deepened to a remarkable and troubling level. Compromise, earnest negotiation and balance of power are missing from Washington. Trust in our politicians and leadership is as low as it has ever been. As the two sides dig deeper and deeper into their tribal viewpoints, our elected officials speak rhetorically in two vastly different ideological languages. Americans today seem to be living in two distinctly different conceptual universes.

It’s bad. But America has faced greater division and greater times of crisis than the times in which we are currently living. The Civil War killed 620,000 Americans and was followed by decades of hatred and fear during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era that killed countless more. Our democracy has survived two World Wars, economic depressions, and the turbulent cultural transition of the ’60s. We managed McCarthyism, the Japanese internment, Watergate, and the lost war in Vietnam which took 58,000 more Americans. We’ve endured bad times, bad decisions and bad presidents before. And we will now.

The American people have not lost faith in our system of democracy, nor in the laws that keep our democracy secure. But we have lost faith in the leaders and politicians whom we have assigned to implement them. Out of desperation, we have brought forward a President who has no intention of working in tandem with Congress, nor with his own appointed officials, nor with the foundational institutions on which our democracy stands. Unlike other revered American leaders, Donald Trump has neither the interest nor the ability to lead America in bridging the gaps that divide us or in furthering the advancement of democracy in the new global world. It isn’t of concern to him that our democracy remains intact so long as his own personal priorities are protected.

America is not broken. We are not in danger of collapse at the hands of either of our political extremes. Neither the so called “Marxist socialists” on the left, nor the greedy “vulture capitalist oligarchs” on the right are going to take over our democracy. There’s no deep state or civil war looming. The government isn’t going to take over production or seize our private property or our guns. Nor will Medicare, social security or food stamps make America a second rate unproductive nanny state.

Our political and economic system has thrived on a combination and balance of capitalism and democratic socialism for a long time now. The two sides of our economic and political systems are not mutually exclusive. For 243 years we have managed to protect the rights of the individual while simultaneously democratizing some things that are for the common good.

Considering the onslaught of a hyperbolic media, we live in a post-truth world where facts are based on personal emotional belief rather than factual truth. We can’t allow hyper partisanship or opinion media to unhinge us from what we know to be true of ourselves as individuals or collectively as citizen of a great and prosperous nation. We have to do better.

Should Donald Trump win a second term, his inaugural message will continue to be “Only I can save us from the carnage and failing democracy I inherited from my lousy predecessors. I will do whatever I have to do to save myself and protect my family from financial ruin, with hatred and malice toward everybody who gets in my way.”

We really can do better than this, and we should.

Mary Holway is a writer and retired social worker. She lives in Southwest Harbor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.