We must do better

 

Last updated 4/9/2024 at 9:32am



A few years ago, in the very early morning hours, I visited the Lincoln Memorial. A crew was busily cleaning the huge statue. I acknowledged the workers with a wave. One man shouted to me, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we don’t want grime to build up on Mr. Lincoln’s face.”

April 15 marks the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. One hundred and fifty-nine years ago, a ruthless bigot, John Wilkes Booth, resentful that the federal government dared to stop white folks from owning black folks, shot Mr. Lincoln in the back of the head at close range as he and his wife were enjoying a play at Ford’s Theater.

Lincoln believed that America’s strength rested in its unity. He believed that the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should constrain all states. Whether you claim them or refer to them with derision, those principles not only allowed but called for diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s important to recall that within five years of Lincoln’s death the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were ratified and became part of the U.S. Constitution. No slavery. Naturalized citizenship. Due process. Equal protection under the law. The right of all citizens to vote irrespective of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Yes, former slaves could even vote. Freedom for everybody. Dignity and respect to everybody. Equal justice under the law for everybody.

Lincoln brought honor to the presidency. He set a tone of respect and expected it from his Republican followers. He shouldered tremendous responsibility and yet, even in victory, showed the utmost humility. He was murdered for his beliefs some twenty years before the Statue of Liberty was unveiled, welcoming immigrants to America’s golden shore. It would have been very easy for Lincoln to call for division, to use his position of influence to inflame hatred, divide the masses, seek revenge, and attempt to humiliate his opponents, but he didn’t. Instead, he set an admirable example, as he appointed three of his political rivals to his own cabinet.

Since the Civil War, more than 600,000 of our soldiers have fought and died for America in its wars. They didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice only now to have America tear itself apart by self-serving leaders, unbridled greed, newfound prejudices, and even political violence. As Lincoln said as he closed his first inaugural address, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies…. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Our current political division is nothing less than grime on Mr. Lincoln’s face. For his sake, and in his memory, we must do better.

 

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