IS TRUMP LIKE LINCOLN?

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer makes the case that President Donald Trump is a lot like “Honest Abe.” He’s here to explain how.

Aired February 12, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

> DESPITE CENTURIES BETWEEN THEM TWO AMERICAN PRESIDENTS SHARED A PASSION FOR BIG IDEAS, UNCONVENTIONAL ORTORY SKILLS AND A RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ESTABLISHMENT THAT DOUBTED THEIR CHANCES OF WINNING THE PRESIDENCY.

ONE OF THEM IS OUR CURRENT PRESIDENT TRUMP.

BUT THE OTHER MIGHT SURPRISE YOU.

THAT'S BECAUSE IT'S ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

ARE THERE MORE PARALLELS BETWEEN LINCOLN AND TRUMP THAN YOU MIGHT THINK?

JOINING ME IS LINCOLN SCHOLAR HAROLD HOLTZER FROM HUNTER COLLEGE AND THE FORMER SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.

MOST PEOPLE I SUSPECT YOU ASK THEM ABOUT ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

THEY'RE GOING TO THINK ONE OF OUR GREATEST PRESIDENTS EVER.

HE MUST HAVE SURELY WON IN A LANDSLIDE.

TELL US WHAT THE REALITY WAS FOR LINCOLN RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

THE DIVISIVENESS BETWEEN BLUE STATES AND GRAY STATES WAS A LOT TENSER THAN EVEN BETWEEN BLUE STATES AND RED STATES.

AS YOU MIGHT EXPECT, THE ENTIRE SOUTH VOTED AGAINST LINCOLN.

IN FACT, HIS NAME WASN'T EVEN ON THE BALLOT IN A NUMBER OF DEEP SOUTH STATES.

IN THE END WHILE HE WON THE ELECTORAL MAJORITY, HE ONLY WON 39.9% OF THE POPULAR VOTE.

I THINK THAT'S STILL THE LOWEST TOTAL OF ANY WINNER IN A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, AT LEAST THE LAST 200 YEARS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

OBVIOUSLY THERE WERE PEOPLE THERE WHO WOULD NOT RECOGNIZE THE RESULT AND THEY DIDN'T.

WE'VE HEARD SO MUCH BEING MADE OF THE FACT THAT DONALD TRUMP AS A CAMPAIGNER ESSENTIALLY CREATED A MEANS OF GOING AROUND THE PRESS, ALMOST SAYING TO THEM I DON'T NEED YOU, I CAN TWEET, I CAN GET MY MESSAGES OUT THERE.

TALK ABOUT ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PRESS.

AT THE BEGINNING IT WAS VERY CONVENTIONAL.

AT THE TIME THE PRESS WAS OPENLY PROUDLY PARTISAN.

SO THERE WERE REPUBLICAN NEWSPAPERS AND DEMOCRATIC NEWSPAPERS.

WHERE HE BEGINS TO DO MORE MANIPULATION AND GOING AROUND THE ESTABLISHED PRESS CULTURE OF THE DAY WHEN HE WAS PRESIDENT.

WHEN HE DEVISED THIS FASCINATING NEW MEANS OF COMMUNICATION AND IT IS VERY MUCH LIKE TWITTER.

HE CALLED IT THE PUBLIC LETTER.

HE WOULD WRITE A LETTER TO A POLITICAL OPPONENT OR A JOURNALIST, A GOVERNOR, AND HE WOULD GIVE THE LETTER NOT ONLY TO ITS RECIPIENT, BUT TO A NEWSPAPER.

ONE NEWSPAPER WOULD PUBLISH IT AND THEN THE NEXT DAY EVERY NEWSPAPER WOULD PUBLISH IT, USUALLY ON THE FRONT PAGE.

IN THIS WAY, LINCOLN COMMUTE COMMUNICATED DIRECTLY WITH THE PEOPLE.

WE'VE SEEN SOME REAL ANIMOSITY BETWEEN PRESIDENT TRUMP AND SOME MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA.

LET'S GO BACK TO LINCOLN'S TIME.

DURING THE COURSE OF THE CIVIL WAR AND THE SUSPENSION OF CERTAIN CIVIL LIBERTIES, HOW ABOUT ANIMOSITY BETWEEN LINCOLN AND THE PRESS IN THAT ERA?

PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS A LONG WAY TO GO TO GET TO THE POINT LINCOLN WAS AT WITH THE PRESS.

HE LOCKED UP JOURNALISTS.

DEMOCRATIC NEWSPAPERS IN NEW YORK BEGAN TO DISCOURAGE RECRUITS ENLISTING IN THE ARMY.

LINCOLN THREW THE SECRETARY OF STATE, THE POSTMASTER GENERAL, PREVENTED NEWSPAPERS FROM GOING THROUGH THE MAIL, HAD THEM SEIZED FROM TRAINS, ULTIMATELY LOCKED UP EDITORS AND CLOSED DOWN NEWSPAPERS.

THEY WERE PRETTY VICIOUSLY RACIST NEWSPAPERS, BUT LINCOLN ABROGATED FREEDOM OF THE PRESS COMPLETELY.

THE OTHER PERIL, THE SHOCK THAT WE ALL HAVE ABOUT THE NOTION OF FAKE NEWS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS A MASTER OF FAKE NEWS . IN THE RUNUP TO EMANCIPATION IN 1862, HE WROTE SEVERAL OPENLY DISINGENUOUS PUBLIC LETTERS SAYING WHAT HE DID ABOUT EMANCIPATION HE DID ONLY TO SAVE THE UNION.

IF HE COULD SAVE THE UNION WITHOUT FREEING ANY SLAVES, HE WOULD HAPPILY DO SO.

THAT WAS PUBLISHED.

BUT WHAT MADE IT DISINGENUOUS WAS THAT HE HAD ALREADY WRITTEN THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION.

LINCOLN SAID WITHOUT PUBLIC SENTIMENT YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING, THAT HE WHO MOVES OPINION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PEOPLE WHO ENACT STATUTES.

LINCOLN WAS WILLING TO BOW TO PUBLIC OPINION AND THE JUDGMENT OF THE PEOPLE.

WHAT I THINK IS THE DIFFERENCE HERE IS THAT HE NEVER DENIED THAT PUBLIC OPINION WAS BEING GAUGED ACCURATELY.

HE NEVER SUGGESTED EXCEPT AROUND THE EDGES OF RACE POLITICS AND IMMIGRATION POLITICS ANOTHER ISSUE THAT WAS BIG IN LINCOLN'S TIME, THAT ELECTIONS WERE RIGGED.

HE DID HAVE, AS HE PUT IT, REFERENCE FOR REVERENCE FOR THE LAWS AND A HEALTHY RESPECT FOR PUBLIC OPINION.

YOU BE WELL.

HAPPY LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

TAKE CARE.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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