He was perhaps our greatest president, and certainly one of our most despised.
Abraham Lincoln had no choice, morally speaking. Opposition to expanding slavery was received in vast areas of the nation as a frontal attack on the American way of life. His words meant war to his fellow citizens; organized, protracted and even to this day incomprehensibly devastating. No other president holds such a distinction.
For scope and depth of disaffection, Lincoln has nothing on Donald Trump. Among incoming chief executives down through history, can there be anyone who does? The ratings, the Inauguration boycotts and protests, the daily drumbeat of social media make the sourness of liberals toward Ronald Reagan seem like a cleared throat in a British comedy of manners.
The difference between Trump and Lincoln — and Barack Obama, also pilloried like few before him — is that Trump relishes and stokes the rancor they so labored to assuage. Where they followed the democratic tradition of reaching out in humility to campaign friend and foe, he’s done a visitor’s victory dance in the home team’s end zone. He’s the Oakland Raider, the New England Patriot, the suspect salesman, for whom winning is all the sweeter because nobody outside the circle wanted it.
The majority of Americans, I’m betting, will continue to hate Trump despite all the assurances from Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway that Papa Don is actually beloved. Which raises the question of what happened to popular will as expressed through the ballot box. The half-dozen answers that have surfaced so far, from voter suppression to Russian trespassing, suggest a gravely ill system. Lincoln promised that system would not perish from the Earth. But he wasn’t telegraphing late-night taunts to the losers, not even Jefferson Davis. And Trump beat so many more Americans than Lincoln. Millions more. Tremendous!