President Lincoln vs. President Trump

Trump is speaking at Lincoln’s memorial. How does their rhetoric compare?

President Lincoln vs. President Trump

Trump is speaking at Lincoln’s memorial. How does their rhetoric compare?
By Ted Widmer
Outlook • Perspective
Ted Widmer, a distinguished lecturer at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York, edited the two-volume set “American Speeches” for the Library of America. His next book, “Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington,” comes out next spring.
Illustration by Ryan McAmis

President Trump plans to speak at a spectacle of his own devising at the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July. Democrats may dread the specter of a garish rally, on America’s birthday, at a site linked to progressive 20th-century causes. Republicans may revel in the prospect of a big red-hat-wearing party. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, of course — a fact Trump announced with a flourish, as if very few knew, in a speech in 2017. Trump’s challenge will be to speak about the man he calls “the late, great Abraham Lincoln” without widening the gulf that separates the two presidents on nearly every conceivable issue. Here, we examine their rhetorical divergences.


Education

When I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all – I have not been to school since – The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.

Autobiographical sketch, Dec. 20, 1859

I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.

Remarks to press, Oct. 25, 2017



The opposition

We mean to remember that you are as good as we; that there is no difference between us, other than the difference of circumstances. We mean to recognize, and bear in mind always, that you have as good hearts in your bosoms as other people, or as we claim to have, and treat you accordingly.

Speech in Cincinnati to an audience including Southerners and political opponents, Feb. 12, 1861

These people are sick. Sick. Every single deal. Every single paper. All of the Democrat politicians, the media bosses. Bad people.

Rally speech, Grand Rapids, Mich., March 28, 2019


Term limits Limits

I have been selected to fill an important office for a brief period and am now, in your eyes, invested with an influence which will soon pass away; but should my administration prove to be a very wicked one, or what is more probable, a very foolish one, if you, the people, are but true to yourselves and to the Constitution, there is but little harm I can do, thank God!

Speech at Lawrenceburg, Ind., Feb. 12, 1861

The good news is that at the end of 6 years, after America has been made GREAT again and I leave the beautiful White House (do you think the people would demand that I stay longer? KEEP AMERICA GREAT).

Tweet, June 16, 2019


Taxes

It is fair that each man shall pay taxes in exact proportion to the value of his property.

Speech to the 164th Ohio Regiment, Aug. 18, 1864

You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes . . . it was sport.

Tweet, May 8, 2019


Commitment

Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.

Speech in Congress, June 20, 1848

Probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.

Remarks to press on declaring a national emergency for border wall funding, Jan. 10, 2019


Associated Press
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Photo left: Associated Press. Photo right: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Hair

As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?

Letter to Grace Bedell, Oct. 19, 1860

That’s one of the great things I got. Everybody used to say my hair’s phony, it’s not my hair, I’m wearing a hairpiece . . . They never say that anymore.

Rally speech, West Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018


Modesty

Though the people have made me, by electing me, the instrument to carry out the wishes expressed in the address, I greatly fear that I shall not be the repository of the ability to do so. Indeed I know I shall not, more than in purpose, unless sustained by the great body of the people, and by the Divine Power, without whose aid we can do nothing.

Speech at Steubenville, Ohio, Feb. 14, 1861

I’ve done more in 500 days than any president has ever done in their first 500 days. There is nobody close and that’s not, that’s a lot of people saying that. That’s people that would rather not say it are saying it, and I really think that we’re going to do very good.

On Fox News, June 13, 2018



The Civil War

Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.

Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Media interview, April 30, 2017


The White House

I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has.

Speech to 166th Ohio Regiment, Aug. 22, 1864

I love the White House, one of the most beautiful buildings (homes) I have ever seen. But Fake News said I called it a dump – TOTALLY UNTRUE

Tweet, Aug. 2, 2017


Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Immigration, Part 1

I regard our emigrants [immigrants] as one of the principal replenishing streams.

Annual message to Congress, Dec. 6, 1864

Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?

Oval Office, Jan. 11, 2018


Immigration, Part 2

I esteem foreigners no better than other people, nor any worse. They are all of the great family of men, and if there is one shackle upon any of them, it would be far better to lift the load from them than to pile additional loads upon them . . . If they can better their condition by leaving their old homes, there is nothing in my heart to forbid them coming, and I bid them all Godspeed.

Speech to Germans in Cincinnati, Feb. 12, 1861

Our Country is FULL!

Tweet, April 7, 2019



George Washington

To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked deathless splendor, leave it shining on.

Address to the Washington Temperance Society, Springfield, Ill., Feb. 22, 1842

Look, if we brought George Washington here, and we said, ‘We have George Washington,’ the Democrats would vote against him. Just so you understand. And he may have had a bad past, who knows, you know? He may have had some, I think, accusations made. Didn’t he have a couple of things in his past?

News conference, Sept. 26, 2018

If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it. You’ve got to put your name on stuff, or no one remembers you.

Remarks while visiting Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, with French President Emmanuel Macron, on April 23, 2018, as recounted by anonymous sources in Politico


Science

Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power — that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the Earth’s surface — for instance, Illinois — and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space.

Lecture on discoveries and inventions, to Young Men’s Association, Bloomington, Ill., April 6, 1858

If Hillary got in . . . you’d be doing wind. Windmills. Weeeng. And if it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television for that night. “Darling, I want to watch television.” “I’m sorry! The wind isn’t blowing.” I know a lot about wind. I know a lot about wind.

Rally speech, Grand Rapids, Mich., March 28, 2019


Richard Shiro/Associated Press/

Winning gracefully

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

We love winners. We love winners. Winners are winners.

Trump rally speech, Evansville, Ind., Aug. 30, 2018


Words of inspiration

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

Speech to Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Sept. 30, 1859

And the greatest phrase, I think, in the history of politics, is on all of those red and white hats that I see out there: Make America Great Again.

Rally speech, Duluth, Minn., June 20, 2018


Fourth of July

I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence . . . I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men.

Remarks in Independence Hall, Feb. 22, 1861

HOLD THE DATE! . . . Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!”

Tweet about plans to speak at the Lincoln Memorial, Feb. 24, 2019

Credits: By Ted Widmer.