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The Lesson of Lincoln in the Age of Trump

  • John Burt
Chapter

Abstract

Lincoln teaches two lessons for the age of Trump, first, a morally responsible but unself-righteous strategy for occasions when one discovers the American people engaging in behavior that undermines the mores upon which democratic political culture depends, and second, a realistic and moderate method of approaching opponents who seem to have closed themselves off from persuasion. The results of the 2016 election unsettle many assumptions about the domestic and international politics that the United States has practiced since the Second World War. They require us to see the American people without illusions and to ask what the proper course of action should be when they betray values that had been widely taken as fundamental and reject the mores and habits that stabilize liberal democratic republics. Lincoln faced a similar shock when he discovered, after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, that many Americans saw slavery not as an intractable evil that one could attack only with caution, but as something positively good, something to be defended and expanded. Even though they failed to prevent civil war, Lincoln’s efforts to keep alive the possibility of persuasive engagement with those with whom he was in profound moral conflict provide a model that our era would be wise to emulate.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Burt
    • 1
  1. 1.Brandeis UniversityWalthamUSA

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