Monday, May 27, 2019

Seeing Abraham Lincoln in Donald Trump's Soul--The Strange Fantasy of the Claremont Institute

In the spring 2019 issue of The Claremont Review of Books, the cover essay is by Thomas Klingenstein--"Patriotism vs. Multiculturalism."  Speaking as the chairman of the Claremont Institute's Board of Directors, he declares what must be the official Claremont Institute position that Abraham Lincoln has been reincarnated in the soul of Donald Trump:
"Trump may not be able to express as well as one might like what makes America great but in his soul he knows what not so long ago our elite knew, that we are the 'almost chosen' people (in Abraham Lincoln's quaint, humble phrase) dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal,' here to show the rest of the world that man can govern himself."
There are three claims here.  First, that Trump has a soul.  Second, that he is unable to clearly express what he knows in his soul.  Finally, that those who know the political thought of Abraham Lincoln can see Lincoln's thought in Trump's soul--particularly, Lincoln's appeal to the Declaration of Independence as affirming the principle of the equal liberty of all human beings as the moral standard for the American regime.  Against the evils of multiculturalism, Trump knows in his Lincolnian soul that America needs "to unite around a single, national political culture based on natural rights, individual freedom, and republican government."

Against these claims, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump's book The Art of the Deal, has said that Trump has "no soul" and "no conscience," that "he's willing to say any thing, to lie, deceive, distort and not feel the slightest bit of guilt about it," because he is a "sociopath."  I have taken Schwartz's position in arguing that Trump shows the chimpanzee personality of a grandiose narcissistic psychopath who has neither moral nor intellectual virtues (here, and here).

So what evidence does Klingenstein have for the Lincolnian depths of Trump's soul that people like Schwartz and I have ignored?  It's hard to say, because Klingenstein admits that Trump "does not formulate" the Lincolnian ideas that Klingenstein attributes to him, that Trump shows "inability to develop coherent arguments," and that he is not "someone who can articulate the nature of the war we are in, who speaks the language of justice, and who can remind us that our goal is the good."

In fact, as far as I know, Trump has never in his entire life ever accurately quoted Lincoln or the Declaration of Independence.  On February 12, 2017, Trump did wish a happy birthday to Lincoln on Instagram, and then he quoted his favorite remark from Lincoln: "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count.  It's the life in your years."  The only problem here is that Lincoln never said this.  Trump felt no guilt in falsely attributing this to Lincoln.

Trump's Lincolnian soul is expressed not in his speech, Klingenstein argues, but in the policies he recommends--and particularly in his attempts to restrict immigration.  So, for example, Trump was embracing a Lincolnian idea when he said that America should not allow immigration from "shitholes" like Haiti, because he was expressing "the view that it is wrong to invite into our society people who cannot, or will not, live responsibly in the way Americans believe is the right way to live."

Trump's scorn for Haitians was an insult to people like Mia Love, the first Haitian American elected as a representative in Congress.  She was also the first black female Republican elected to Congress.  She is the daughter of Haitian immigrants who fled violence in Haiti.  She is a pro-life conservative Republican.  Is Klingenstein accurate in saying that she "cannot, or will not, live responsibly in the way Americans believe is the right way to live"?  Would Lincoln have said this?  Or would he have found it despicable?

Klingenstein is silent about what Lincoln said about the Know-Nothing Party, which promoted the anti-immigration xenophobia that Trump is reviving today.  In a letter to Joshua Speed in August 24, 1855, Lincoln wrote:
"I am not a Know-Nothing.  That is certain.  How could I be?  How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?  Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.  As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.'  We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.'  When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.'  When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."
As is pointed out in David Azerrad's response to Klingenstein's essay in CRB, Trump's Know-Nothing anti-immigration policies are rooted not in Lincoln's thought but in American Progressivism, because the American Progressives "believed in the superiority of the Teutonic races and their rightful title to rule not just America, but the world," and thus the Progressives would have agreed with Trump's scorn for the "shithole" countries.

The American Progressives were responsible for the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act), which imposed strict quotas on immigration from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.  The Immigration Law of 1965 overturned these quotas to allow for freer immigration.  Trump's anti-immigration policy is an attempt to restore the 1924 policy of the American Progressives, and thus to overturn the Lockean liberal policy for general naturalization and open borders.  (I have written a post on John Locke's general immigration policy.)

This indicates that the Claremont Institute has now decided to drop its opposition to American Progressivism so that it can support Trump.  This suggests that if Trump has a soul, it's not Lincolnian but Progressive.

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