Party of Lincoln Wouldn't Recognize Trump's GOP

Jesse Jackson | 9/14/2018, 8:45 a.m.
Last week, President Trump, in a rambling stump speech in Montana, bizarrely compared his oratory to that of Abraham Lincoln's ...
Jesse Jackson

Last week, President Trump, in a rambling stump speech in Montana, bizarrely compared his oratory to that of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, arguing (incorrectly) that Lincoln was "ridiculed" for the speech.

"He was excoriated by the fake news. ... Fifty years after his death, they said it may have been the greatest speech ever made in America," Trump noted. "I have a feeling that's going to happen with us."

Don't hold your breath, Donald. Nothing could be a farther remove from Lincoln's austere, measured eloquence than Trump's often incoherent mutterings. And nothing could be farther removed from the Republican Party of Lincoln than the right-wing politicians that today carry the Republican label.

The Republican Party emerged in 1854 in the fight against the extension of slavery to the new territories opening up in the West. Republicans opposed the extension, with its strategists arguing that slavery would die out if it were contained in the South.

Under Lincoln, the Republican Party stayed true to the nation in the civil war that ended with the abolition of slavery. Democrats were the party of Jefferson Davis, the leader of the rebelling states of the South.

As the party of the Union, Republicans dominated American politics from the Civil War to the 1930s. They believed in free labor, free soil, free men. They favored what Lincoln called "domestic improvements," building the railroads, and investing in public infrastructure. They favored spending more money to improve public education, with Lincoln founding the land grant colleges across the country.

They believed in science, supporting sophisticated research in agricultural techniques and production. The party of business, they supported protective tariffs and liberal immigration policy. They passed the first income tax, the homestead laws that distributed lands to settlers, and the national banking system. Under Teddy Roosevelt, they pushed anti-trust laws, sought to clean up government and favored protective measures for workers -- from the eight-hour day to environmental protection to worker safety laws.

In the 1960s, Republican senators helped pass the civil rights laws over the implacable opposition of Southern Democrats. As late as the 1970s under Gerald Ford, Republican leaders were pro-choice, pro-equal rights, pro-civil rights and leading environmentalists.

Just as Donald Trump is no Abraham Lincoln, today's Republican Party stands in stark contradiction to the Republican Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Gerald Ford. This Republican Party is now the party of Jefferson Davis, the party of states' rights. It waves the confederate flag and glorifies Jefferson Davis and Robert E Lee.

When LBJ pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he told Bill Moyers that he feared he had lost the South for a generation. Turns out he was too optimistic.

Adopting a cynical "Southern strategy," Republicans turned themselves into a party grounded in white Southerners still resisting equal rights for all. Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond led Southern Democrats into the Republican Party. The party aligned with the conservative evangelical church movement that rose through the South. And, of course remained the party of big business and conservative money.