Weeks: America’s greatness is based on America’s goodness
Trump’s self-comparison to Lincoln is offensive in the extreme
Growing up in a Republican family with a history of public service, it was impossible not to venerate President Abraham Lincoln. His biographies graced our bookshelves and were read aloud by my dad. His Gettysburg Address hung (and still hangs) on my wall, forever inscribed in my mind.
And on many a family road trip to Washington, D.C., I would visit the Lincoln Memorial and marvel at the closing lines in his second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us … bind up the nation’s wounds [and] do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
How could Lincoln be so darn great and good at the same time? I wondered. In time I came to see the two qualities were inextricably entwined. As another favorite quote began, “America is great because America is good…”
Against this backdrop, I was unusually unnerved to hear President Trump compare himself to Honest Abe in the last presidential debate.
Standing in front of the Black moderator Kristen Welker, Trump declared himself “the least racist person in this room” and claimed to have done more for African Americans than any other president, with the “possible” exception of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Liberator.
It was the latest in a litany of Lincoln comparisons Trump has drawn for himself, each one more ludicrous than the last.
When paired with his confident assertion that he is “the least racist person,” these claims are offensive in the extreme. Consider five facts about Trump’s record on racism from before he was elected and another five since he took office:
1.Trump launched his real estate empire denying Black people the right to rent in his 14,000 Brooklyn apartments. He was sued for violating the Fair Housing Act by Nixon’s Justice Department in 1973 and settled.
2.Trump built his casino business discriminating against Black workers in the 1980s and ‘90s. He maligned Black accountants, claimed “laziness is a trait in blacks”, and pulled Black and female workers from the casino floor. He was fined $200,000 in 1992 as a result.
3.Trump boosted his public standing by demanding the death penalty for five Black teenagers falsely accused of raping a White woman in 1989. The “Central Park Five” served seven to 13 years in prison before their convictions were vacated on DNA evidence and they were paid a $41 million settlement. Trump never apologized and reiterated his “guilty” charge in 2016.
4.Trump based his rise in politics on the “Birther” conspiracy that President Obama was not a true American. He maintained the baseless claim long after it had been disproven, also calling America’s first Black president “ignorant” and “founder of ISIS”.
5.Trump launched his 2016 campaign calling Mexicans “rapists and murders” and demanding “a complete and total ban on Muslims entering the United States.” Two of his signature policies were building a wall with Mexico and imposing travel restrictions on predominantly-Muslim nations, which were struck down by the courts as discriminatory.
6.Trump has accepted support from neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and frequently retweeted their racist screeds. After a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of antiracist protestors in Charlottesville, killing one, Trump said “both sides” were to blame and claimed there were “some very fine people” among the white supremacists.
7.Trump asked, in reference to Haiti and Africa, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” and suggested the U.S. should take more immigrants from predominantly white Norway instead.
8.Trump’s “signature achievement” for Black Americans, the First Step Act, has reduced prison populations by only a fraction of 1% and his administration has worked to undermine it.
9.Trump’s claims of “saving” historically Black colleges and universities after they were long “neglected” belies the fact that the Obama-Biden administration invested more than $4 billion in HBCUs and the Democratic Congress appropriated the very funds for which he takes credit.
10.Trump called the coronavirus a “Chinese plague” and “hoax” and repeatedly downplayed its danger even after his own administration reported that Black Americans are 4.7 times more likely than White people to get hospitalized and 2.1 times more likely to die as a result.
American greatness is predicated on American goodness, and no truer test exists than the way we treat communities of color that suffer injustice to this day. Lincoln always claimed he was a broken man, but he passed the goodness test and made America greater than we had ever been before. Trump has shown again and again that he never will.
It’s time we elect an empathetic leader who, by his conduct and character, has shown his determination to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and seek “a just and lasting peace” for the good of all. That leader is Vice President Joe Biden.
Dan Weeks of Nashua is a 12th-generation Granite Stater and author of “Poor in Democracy: A View From Below.”