It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says ‘you toil and work and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.
— Abraham Lincoln, October 15, 1858
Whatever happened to the Party of Lincoln, the Grand Old Party, the glorious bulwark of the “better angels of our nature, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”?
While not just many Americans, but people around the world are wondering aloud about this question, some historical perspective is in order. It would be too easy to say that Donald Trump’s candidacy killed it.
More than Lincoln died in 1865
A principled Republican Party actually began to die in the spring of 1865: when an unstable narcissist, actor, pumped up by his own ego and press, shot and killed Abraham Lincoln.
Politicians, profiteers and scam artists, wrapping themselves in the dead President’s mantle, continued to inflict wounds on his party for the next 99 years.
Overall, there was an ongoing willingness to exploit the many for the benefit of the few. That most shameful and damaging principle continues to this day.
Donald Trump is just one of the crasser manifestations of that unperturbed selfishness and hucksterism.
Nixon and Goldwater as killers of principle
Half a century ago, it was Barry Goldwater who twisted the Jim Crow knife into the American body politic.
The Republican Presidential candidate of 1964 famously declared that year that the “conscience” of a true conservative demanded that “states rights” trump any federal action to prohibit race-based discrimination.
(Note that this prescription of claiming “states” rights is used to this very day – whenever the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court felt the need to kill whatever meek reform efforts emanate from federal legislation.)
Not to be left behind, Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the 1968 presidential race continued that shameful process. Tricky Dick sold the soul of the Lincoln heritage for the votes of old-school Dixiecrats and George Wallace supporters.
Embracing those racists was declared as “moral.” What mattered was not principle (that was so Lincolnesque and hence outdated). All that mattered was whatever it took to obtain a “majority.”
(Here again, it is worthy of note that, absent a deep dive into the bag of racist tricks, the modern Republican Party would have a very hard time to gain political majorities, or come even close.)
A cancer on Lincoln’s heart
In the process, Nixon and company not only added insult to impeachable injury, they seeded the ethical heart of Lincoln’s party with a virulent form of inoperable cancer.
As no fair-minded person can deny any longer, that effort is fatal to not only the spirit of Lincoln, but to his Grand Old Party as well.
Helped by those who have openly nourished and benefitted from its growth, the tumor has not only metastasized but mutated.
Its DNA now includes not only strains of Sheridan, Wallace, McCarthy and Nixon, but newer strains of the short-sighted, malicious and mean-spirited — raised to the level of caricature.
Coming full circle
The GOP’s nomination of Donald Trump is thus not all that surprising.
From the perspective of those who loved and admired the Republican Party’s first President, however, it is a tragedy. It is the outward and visible sign of the GOP’s inner and spiritual fall from grace.
A century and a half after Lincoln’s murder, it would appear that another unstable narcissist, entertainer, pumped up by his own ego and press, has rallied a company of self-serving politicians, cynical profiteers, cowards and scam artists to his side – only this time as the candidate, not the shooter.
Together, they are trying to sell a bill of goods to the American people, quite a few of whom have genuine grievances.
Fittingly enough, the have set off the moral equivalent of a second Ford’s Theater, this time not killing the president, but the Republican Party itself.
It must not happen again.
Only our votes stand in their way.
A principled Republican Party actually began to die in the spring of 1865.
Lincolnesque principles didn't matter. All that mattered was whatever it took to obtain a “majority.”
A century and a half after Lincoln’s murder, another unstable narcissist has rallied a company of self-serving politicians.