The photo op at the White House yesterday was perhaps the most absurd and unsettling moment I can imagine.
Peaceful citizens standing in front of the White House, doing nothing more than peacefully assembling as the First Amendment allows, were tear gassed and shot at with projectiles, so that the national disgrace that is Donald Trump could hold up a bible and try to project whatever strength he thought that moment provided him with.
By now, it must be obvious to all that Trump is a small, weak, and cowardly man. For all of his bluster and Alpha male instincts, he’s just an emotionally bereft child who never made the difficult (but necessary) adjustments to adult life. And this nation is paying a severe price for having elected him as president.
As Abraham Lincoln was about to board a Washington-bound train in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois on a winter’s day in 1861, he stopped to say a few words to the assembled people at the scene. There were no cameras, no microphones, and no way for his words to be shared with anyone who wasn’t within earshot at the time. He had no prepared words at the ready, but he spoke from his heart. The version of his words may or may not be his exact words at the time, since he wrote them down while on the train.
Here’s what he said:
My friends — No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
Beginning the remarks with “My friends” tells me a lot. Has Donald Trump ever called anyone a friend? If he has, I’ve never heard it. Friends are a rare and precious commodity, and Lincoln no doubt had many of them. His well-known line that “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” is something that everyone could learn from.
Donald Trump does not have real friends, that I can see. And if he does, he probably treats them in horrific ways. But Abraham Lincoln had many, many friends. Carl Sandburg even referred to him as “the friend of Man.”
Getting to the heart of what Lincoln was saying (the nub, as he would call it), he says that he would need the assistance of “the Divine Being” in order to succeed as president. He returned to this theme in his second Inaugural address, a few weeks before he was killed in 1865. There’s a higher power, Lincoln said—without naming it in a way that any specific faith could claim as their own—and that power alone will determine what things lie ahead.
I’m not religious in any conventional sense. As Thomas Paine once wrote, my own mind is my own church. But the higher power concept carries enormous weight with me. There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, as Shakespeare pointed out in Hamlet and Lincoln himself was fond of saying. Just yesterday, I closed out an insurance claim for a car accident where I could have died, but walked away without a scratch. It wasn’t my time yet, fortunately. But that decision was not mine to make.
An act of faith, of any sort, would have been very meaningful yesterday in front of the church that Donald Trump used as a backdrop. The tear gas and the flash bangs were awful in their own right, but an act of faith in a higher power at the end of it could arguably have been a redeeming act on some level. But no, that’s not what happened. In Trump’s diseased mind, there is no power higher than his own. So he held up a bible and glared at the cameras, instead.
If Lincoln has not wept for America in the Age of Trump—as I’m sure he has, many times over—he must have done so yesterday. We all should. There truly are some dark days ahead, and we need a light more than ever before. But that isn’t going to come from Donald Trump.