Trump And Conservatives Are Abandoning Lincoln

Eight days ago, I wrote a column sharing how our “nation is divided.” Those seeking evidence for this claim need only to look to two recent events effecting Black Americans in our nation.

The first is the announcement by Louisiana Attorney General, Jeff Landry, that no charges would be filed against two White police officers; Blane Salomoni and Howie Lake II , who killed a Black man, Alton Sterling, back in 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The case appeared cut and dry to even the most casual of viewers. Mr. Sterling who was selling CD’S in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, was shot and killed while both officers were on top of him.

The incident caught on video was thought sufficient enough, however, a federal investigation failed to bring forth charges that the two officers involved violated Mr. Sterling’s rights “given the circumstances.”

Despite the plethora of video evidence, Mr. Sterling’s right hand could not be seen in the captured videos by the two officers involved, or the several eyewitnesses observing the incident.  According to the Justice Department, ten months ago,  the “high bar” in “cases like these could not be reached.”

In essence, the Justice Department advanced the argument that since the videos could not prove nor disprove the Officers’ statements, regarding Mr. Sterling “going for his gun,” this despite both of them being on top of him was insufficient evidence that Sterling’s rights were violated.

Landry who told Sterling’s family prior to the public announcement provoked the following response by Sterling’s aunt Veda Washington:

“They’re not going to bring charges on anybody. Why would they do that? This is white America,” Washington said.

The second and more recent event indicative of our nation being divided is the recent shooting and killing by police of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California. In this instance, shaky body cam evidence indicates two police officers running up a driveway leading to the following exchange:

“Hey! Show me your hands! Stop! Stop!” an officer yells. As the officers run into a backyard, they turn a corner and spot Clark in the glare of their flashlights. The officers take temporary cover behind the corner and then confront the suspect once more. This time, an officer yells at Clark to show his hands, then begins shouting, “Gun, gun, gun!” Gunfire then erupts.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, “A total of twenty shots were fired.”

After releasing footage of the incident, the Sacramento Police Department issued the following statement:

A department statement said that “prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands. At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them.”

As is the case with these incidents, whether it be Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray,  or the host of others, a life is lost, controversy ensues,  with many marginalizing the very real impact these victims suffer. In each instance, the police officer is given the benefit of the doubt.

It is no secret that  huge disparities  exist in the manner police use force and Vox’s Dara Lind highlights these disparities quite well. Alternatively, it is unpersuasive to argue the difficulties present in being a police officer these days. In other words, a balance must exist. And that requires leadership.

Instead of taking aim at Black Lives Matter, going so far as to call them a “terror group,” or,  portraying all police officers with the same broad brush, by passing legislation that Blue Lives Matter – they do – one can acknowledge both the inequities suffered by minorities while honoring our police officers’ role in keeping the peace.

Remember President Obama’s address in Dallas, Texas? He did not excuse the behavior of minorities, nor did he encourage violence, but he found a way to thread a delicate needle while conveying the importance of addressing inequities faced by minorities, and the dangers police officers face.

Watch Mr. Obama strike that balance in the video below:

It may be helpful to place our current situation into an earlier moment in history; the crisis of the republic in the 1850’s, the dark years which led to our Civil War. In that era, American politics was divided between what David Greenstone calls reform liberalism represented by Abraham Lincoln and a utilitarian liberalism represented by Stephen Douglas.

The issue then, was whether slavery should be extended to the western territories. Douglas took the line of popular sovereignty.  If they want slavery, let them have slavery. In other words, liberty or freedom to Douglas was defined as “what the white majority wanted.” For Douglas, his form of utilitarian liberalism asked only for individuals to sum their own preferences.

Lincoln however, said slavery was wrong. He argued that the peculiar institution contradicted the nation’s most fundamental principles and should not be extended west. He did not wish to do away with slavery upon inheriting the presidency, but this was his core conviction all the same.

For Lincoln though, freedom was the right to do what was morally justified, and his position had its roots in New England Puritanism. It was this conviction which led Lincoln to his famous “House Divided” speech.

If we apply Lincoln’s words to our situation we can say that our house is not divided by slavery so much as it is class divisions. In other words, while slavery has been abolished, equality for African-Americans has not been achieved.

As Mr. Obama pointed out in his speech, most of the problems we witness between police and minorities are rooted in class. This is not to say racism does not exist, for it clearly does. Without acknowledging that fact, class issues can in no wise be addressed.

However, with Mr. Trump’s fixation with building a wall,  his using dog-whistles, bigotry and prejudice, all while arguing how White Nationalists are fine, one wonders whatever happened to the Party of Lincoln?

Lincoln evolved on equality: Mr. Trump has not.

Instead of “All Lives Matter,” how about, “All men are created equal?”

Credit: Bellah, R.N, Madsen, R., Sullivan, W.M, Swidler, A., Tipton, S.M. Habits of the heart; individualism and commitment in American life. (1985). University of California Press. Los Angeles, CA.