Lincoln: Thinking in political terms

Monday, July 25, 2016

10 a.m. Mr. Lincoln, I am asking myself, how would you analyze the political situation. I am waiting to see what Bernie Sanders says tonight, but I am also trying to “feel” – does the Democratic Party have a future? Should it? Does it still hang in the balance? Et cetera. You know how we revere your integrity and respect your analytical ability. Can you provide some insight?

The analysis you were performing, talking to yourself as you did your errand, is only what I would have done. If you were to do more thinking your way through it and less feeling, you could certainly analyze matters as well as I could.

Thinking, not feeling. Yes, that is a difference in our type, isn’t it?

You can think, you often think, but you don’t usually let your thinking overrule what you feel, or rather, you often cease to think when it begins to contradict what you feel. This more than anything characterizes your analytical process. When you are intuitively right, you are prophetic. When intuitively wrong, you are not merely ineffective but so much so as to embarrass yourself. I was a man of deep feeling but – to put it in terms you would use – I was sensory primarily, not intuitive. So I judged what I saw (and what was beneath the surface, but still it proceeded from what I had experienced or deduced or sensed implicitly). I judged by the sensory evidence, filtered through my thinking apparatus. That way, I knew (as well as anything could be known) what the prevailing forces were at any given moment. I used my judgement – my applied thinking – to see what was possible and desirable. My values proceeded from my feelings – a deep and abiding love for the Union, an abhorrence of slavery – but my actions (including speech as an action) proceeded from my judgment as to what was possible and desirable, or perhaps unavoidable.

This  is how I saved the Union – I applied myself to grasp and master the ever-changing essentials of the situation, and I set out unwearyingly to do what I could at any given moment, always keeping my eyes to what we wanted to accomplish at the end. Any vacillations, contradictions, mistakes, tactical retreats, were all incidental to keeping us on course as best I could.

And as you have said to me elsewhere – you kept your motives pure in hope that being on God’s side would preserve you from the worst effects of your own misjudgments or blindness.

Not in so many words, but yes. Right intent, careful attention, diligence. That was all I could offer, and it was enough.

In that, you remind me of Eisenhower as supreme commander in Europe, whose job was to keep everybody working as a team. So now, looking again at our situation —

If you will repeat on paper what you thought out while driving, it will have the advantage of not purporting to come from “a spirit” and in addition will come out easier. Then I may comment or criticize or even contradict you entirely. But you will have performed the exercise of thinking in political terms rather than merely feeling with great intensity. Feeling expresses your values, but provides little guidance as to a practical path. Thinking analyzes a situation so that you may see the constraints and possibilities of a given situation in light of the values that tell you what you would prefer to happen.

All right. I won’t attempt to reproduce the chain of logic, but I’ll start at the place I left off, and we’ll see.

[Putting this long section in Roman rather than italic, for ease of reading.]

The Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt’s coalition was the feudal barons of the Solid South, the “ethnics” of the cities, and the liberals. It was an uneasy coalition but while it lasted, it won. Roosevelt’s New Deal could be looked at as what he could accomplish within the limitations of holding his coalition together.

Harry Truman split the coalition when he desegregated the armed forces and stood up to Russian pressure in Europe. In 1948 the Dixiecrats (the southern barons of the Solid South, built upon Negro disenfranchisement and poor white resentment of Republicans as heirs to the carpetbaggers) defected from the right. Henry Wallace defected from the left, claiming Truman was red-baiting. Truman still managed to eke out a win, mostly because Thomas A. Dewey was a dismal, repellant, candidate, but his reelection over a split party opened the way for the Eisenhower landslides.

When JFK supported the Civil Rights movement, he knew he was going to hurt the Democratic Party in the South. Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act sealed it. Goldwater won the deep South in 1964, and George Wallace took several states in 1968, and by 1972 the new South was whites mostly for Republicans, Blacks for Democrats.

Jimmy Carter as a liberal Southerner put the coalition together (barely) in 1976, but then lost. Bill Clinton, another southerner who was liberal on the race issues, if not much else, won and was re-elected. His v.p., Gore, yet another southerner. was elected as well, though it was taken from him. Obama cemented the Black vote, the liberal vote, but I don’t actually know enough about his winning coalition to know what else it consisted of. Presumably a lot of economically disenfranchised people decided to take a chance on the Democrats in the face of eight years of disaster.

But now there’s one more thing to consider. Why have Democrats been losing midterm elections (because of low voter turnout) even though a majority of people are disgusted by Republican tactics and even objectives? My analysis has been that in this I am representative of many: Since Democrats are pursuing the same policies as Republicans, why reward them? But the Democrats did not get the message, until Bernie Sanders lit a prairie fire. He didn’t accumulate the fuel – it was everywhere. He only lit the match.

And the result? The people running the Democratic Party have done all they could to sabotage his campaign and – not incidentally – to muffle the message that millions of Democrats were responding to.

Both parties are effectively controlled by those who can provide the political contributions they need (or think they need) to stay in office. Bernie’s example was too sudden and unexpected for the pols to realize all at once that by having progressive beliefs and proclaiming them, they too could get all the monetary support they would need. I think this is the hidden mainspring behind the party establishment and candidates lining up as ordered: In the absence of an assured alternate source of campaign funds, they didn’t dare assert independence.

Now, was this really analysis, or just history?

Continue, in any case. Consider the elections this year as facing both major parties.

I haven’t really been following the Republican process. They’re all lunatics, and for the same reason. Their financial base expects and will extort compliance on certain issues regardless of the economic facts and the social consequences. In order to smooth and sugar-coat this economic core, they obsess over social issues, all of which boil down to resentment of change, resentment of government coercion, resentment of a lost America that never existed but is as real to them as if it had.

But what forces rend the party?

Hmm. Trump, I suppose, as so obviously unqualified and uncontrollable a candidate. Fear that he’s going to drag them down all up and down the ticket. Any other issues that divide them, I don’t know because I wasn’t paying attention.

But, you see, I would have been paying attention. How can you know what you are fighting if you cannot see it?

Well, until Bernie came along telling the truth, I had lost interest in an obviously futile political system.

But once he reawakened your interest, why did you not inform yourself as you went along?

I guess I was assuming it was a waste of time. Most of them were going to not get the nomination, and the one who did would have gotten it on grounds clear enough. Who expected that they’d be crazy enough to go for Trump?

Now think. Now you know where you are, so think. Being as fair and evenhanded as you can be, tell yourself who is voting for Trump and why. Do it for Clinton, and Sanders. It’s all right to say “because she or he isn’t…” once, but if that is the limit of your analysis, you actually haven’t begun, you have just said, “I don’t like.…” But that gets you no farther. It tells you nothing about the situation that can help you.

I see. I do. I’m really not qualified to talk about either Trump’s or Clinton’s supporters. I don’t really know them, just reactions to them.

You see, your understanding is improved even by this much. You not understanding the emotional or practical backing the other two candidates have prevents you from seeing what forces are in play and how they may play out.

I see that. I also see that somehow I have written nearly ten pages, and I am worn out. So next time may I have your analysis of our situation?

We shall see. Bernie Sanders’ speech tonight should clarify some things in your mind.

Very well, we’ll see. Thank you as always, Mr. Lincoln.

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