Yes, Mr. Gopnik, you--and the establishment media or, better, we--may still be in time to save Lincoln's republic.
What strange effect does the reading at 40,000 feet in the air, and coming back from Varanasi, create. It concentrates the mind on what is truly essential.
Your exhaustive research on whether Mr. Stanton sent Lincoln's soul among the "angels" or the "ages" is safely inconclusive, but in the process it touches upon quite a few striking verities.
The most important of which seems to be this: The reading of history is colored by one's liberal or conservative ideology.
How can that be? Is there anything like a historical truth at all? Or is it all made up by partisan ideologues?
Mr. Gopnik, after carefully reviewing the nuanced hard details, comes down in favor of both: Yes, he concludes, Lincoln belongs to the ages and the angels.
Clever, equanimous, but not satisfactory.
Underneath all the subtle academic disquisitions there is a hard reality. The world as constructed by the ideological right and the ideological left compels our leaders to be tragic personalities. As Mr. Gopnik points out, both Lincoln and President Truman, Truman of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, could ultimately find personal solace in Shakespeare for the horrible acts of war--and peace, one must add, by necessarily highlighting the effects of malnutrition and starvation.
President Lincoln, Mr. Gopnik assures us, "was plainly haunted by the imagery of fallen and ruined leaders, and sensed how fine a line separates a king and a usurper, or a Lincoln and a Davis.
"But even stranger and more striking is Lincoln's identification or, at the very least, fascination with the figure of Claudius (in Hamlet)" And what is the burden of Claudius's speech? It is about guilt and ambition, and about the fraternal blood-dealing that that produces" His speech runs through to the difference between his conduct as seen on earth and in Heaven, and ends with an image of his soul as a 'limed' bird, caught in a sticky trap, that gets more stuck as it struggles... (Lincoln) had not a guilty sense of remorse but a tragic sense of responsibility. He believed that what he was doing was right; he knew that what he was doing was dealing death to the undeserving""
Indeed, you yourself, Mr. Gopnik, suggest the depth of the investigation that must be done: "Lincoln exemplifies the problem of liberal violence: the disjunction between the purity of our motives (as they appear to the liberal) and the force of our violence (as it is experienced by the victim)."
The charitable truth is brought forth by Jesus' last words: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." There is absolutely no valid reason for the acts of cruelty we engage in.
At a very deep level, we do not know. Yet, at a superficial level we do know precisely what we are doing. At best, we believe, as Lincoln believed, that "right makes might." And, of course, we define what is right. At worst, we believe that "might makes right."
This is the danger that, ominously, hovers over this election cycle in America. If Donald Trump wins the election, he will most likely practice what he believes: Might makes right.
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