Happy 210th Birthday, Abe and Charles

February 12, 2019

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were each born on February 12, 1809. No single day in history has yielded a duo that arguably went on to exert as much influence on mankind as that one.

It is with a touch of irony that from present time one looks back on the legacy of those men. To preserve the indivisibility of America’s experiment in democracy, Lincoln persevered through the country’s costliest crisis and came to  the realization that a moral resolution to the war could not be achieved unless slavery were abolished throughout the entire country. When he first took the presidential oath of office, in an attempt to get seceding states to stay in the union, he explicitly vowed that the federal government would not pursue ending slavery in those states where it was then legal. As the War Between the States was drawing to a close and just weeks from his untimely death, Lincoln at his second inaugural proclaimed a message of forgiveness, not blame:

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.

America’s second marriage has not been easy nor as forgiving as Lincoln had hoped. Racial divisions persist in different forms than before, and the cultures in the former confederate and union states evolved along different paths. Nearly 75 years have now elapsed since the last U.S. existential military conflict against a foreign foe. That’s a third of the Republic’s whole history. Successful wars that when looking back were unavoidable and purposeful have a way of gluing a nation’s people in spirit as well as name.

In a strange twist of identity, moreover, the political movement that Lincoln fathered now has a key part of its regional support from the very states that sought to leave America in 1861. Even weirder, the Republican Party has in recent years become hostile to foreign nations that have stood alongside the American dream in standing up to tyranny around the world. Only 32 years ago while visiting Berlin, former President Reagan famously proclaimed,

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev…Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Under Republican leadership it is America, a nation built on shared ideas rather than DNA homogeneity, which is now in the business of building walls. To be sure, it’s to keep people out, whereas the Berlin Wall was erected to keep asylum seekers from leaving without being shot.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through a process of natural selection, while widely accepted in the scientific community, has many opponents in the Republican base, which has in many other respects like climate change has turned its back increasingly on the scientific method of understanding how things work. If one finds greater truth in faith than science, how is America’s claim to moral superiority reconciled with its original sin of slavery. The Egyptian pursuers of the fleeing former Israeli slaves were drowned in the Red Sea without any consideration of charity for all. The cost in military and civilian lives lost in the Second World War has been estimated as high as 85 million. Ignoring climate change risks a humanity loss that could be 100-fold greater than that. Regrettably, the Trump Administration has no interest in treating claims of manmade climate change as anything more than a hoax.

Looking backward from 210 years later, the celebration  of the lives of Lincoln and Darwin evokes some bittersweet thoughts.

Copyright 2019, Larry Greenberg. All rights reserved. No secondary distribution without express permission.




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