Critical history: Presidents Trump, Lincoln endure the same political attacks

Critical history: Presidents Trump, Lincoln endure the same political attacks
© Getty Images

It is painful to watch our liberal elites endlessly avoid history. Their historical ignorance is creating an ongoing sense of hysteria, which would be absurd if it were not so destructive.

The latest examples of unvarnished ignorance masquerading as profound insight come from the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times and Bob Woodward’s long collection of anecdotes and stories (many of which have been repudiated by former four-star generals).

Instead of rushing around fighting over the trivia, we ought to take a lesson from history and ask, “What’s this really about?”

ADVERTISEMENT

The answer is simple: President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE is a profound agent of change, and the establishment power structures — in government and in media — are lashing out at him. 

This is a documented pattern in American history. In fact, the same type of hysterical, unending assault was levied against Abraham Lincoln. Southern slaveholders, and many Northern elites, hated him because he represented the end of their way of life. 

Allen Guelzo, the director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College, pointed out shortly after the 2016 election that the vitriol and viciousness of the South Carolina pro-slavery newspapers against Lincoln in 1860 is remarkably parallel to the left’s hatred of Trump. Guelzo even helped me with a chapter in my book, “Understanding Trump.” He suggested that, in both cases, the anti-Lincoln slaveowners and the anti-Trump left sensed the end of their way of life if the new president succeeded. 

I contacted Guelzo after the recent hysteria. As I suspected, he found numerous parallels between the worries about President Trump and what people wrote about President Lincoln. Here are some of the better examples:

Early on, the Times of London opined on Feb. 13, 1861, of Lincoln that “[h]e frequently examines the Constitution, and the more he looks at it the less he finds in it”

A harsher assessment was from The Saturday Review, which asserted: “A vigorous Executive, unembarrassed by over-nice notions of legality, seems to be the present ideal. … We see the president assuming and actively exercising powers which might almost content the executive of the most absolute European monarchs. He invites and accepts unlimited offers of men and money from all quarters, and apparently disposes of both at his own unfettered discretion. … This ostentatious contempt for constitutional proprieties is the more marked because it is altogether gratuitous.” 

According to the New York Daily News, Lincoln was guilty of “cunning, heartlessness, and folly,” while The New York Times wrote on May 28, 1864: “No living man was ever charged with political crimes of such multiplicity and such enormity. … He has been denounced without end as a perjurer, a usurper, a tyrant, a subverter of the Constitution, a destroyer of the liberties of his country, a reckless desperado, a heartless trifler. ... There is no circle in Dante’s Inferno full of enough torment to expatiate his iniquities.”

Seemingly at the peak of hysteria, the La Crosse Democrat even advocated assassination, printing: “if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

But Lincoln’s problems weren’t just with the newspapers.

Supreme Court Justice David Davis asserted in an interview with William H. Herndon: “Want of will — want of administrative ability; he did not fully foresee all — he did not organize by a solid plan; hence his [administration] didn’t run smooth — no Care for the future.”

According to “The Lincoln Papers,” by David C. Mearns, even Lincoln’s own faithful secretary, John Nicolay, suggested “the President’s official habits … were reckless of all order, and gave his secretaries no end of trouble.”

Does this type of criticism sound familiar?

Just as President Trump is reviled by the elite establishment political-media class, when Lincoln became president, he had to deal with enormous contempt from the eastern sophisticated class that was disgusted that a Midwestern country bumpkin could be president.

However, Lincoln also had to face the painful reality that the Civil War did not start well for the Union, and his first several waves of generals simply couldn’t win. Additionally, Lincoln locked up numerous members of the Maryland legislature to suppress anti-government sentiment.  

Yet, anyone who is even nominally familiar with American history will tell you that Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents.

Whatever President Trump’s weaknesses and problems, he is leading a tremendous economy, filling the federal bench with Constitution-minded judges, and renegotiating scores of unfair trade deals. Trump’s success only makes the criticism more absurd. Any serious student of presidential history would know how childish and irrelevant the scribblings of The New York Times’ anonymous author and the gossip-mongering of Bob Woodward really are.

President Trump ought to ignore every attack article and uneducated left-wing television commentator and, instead, spend time having lunch with Lincoln scholars and other presidential scholars. He would rapidly learn that the noise in the liberal media is just that: noise — and historically ignorant noise, at that.

Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, chairman of the board at Gingrich Productions and a Gallup senior scientist.