During a virtual town hall, staged at the Lincoln Memorial, Fox News anchor Bret Baier asked President Trump, “As far as bringing the country together, do you think you’re doing that?”
The majestic statue of Abraham Lincoln inspired no matching majesty of thought from Trump. “I think we’re winning, very big, and then we had a horrible thing happen," he said. “I think that winning ultimately is going to bring this country together.”
Of course, Trump’s definition of “winning” is all about restoring a pre-pandemic status quo. In that, he sees unity — even as the rising COVID-19 death count exposes the brutal consequences of the country’s preexisting condition of racial and economic injustice.
To Lincoln, a “House divided” by slavery “could not stand.” But to Trump, a “House divided” by wealth, skin color, and disagreement over how best to safely reopen the country is tolerable. While he desperately seeks a vaccine to kill the coronavirus and send the stock market soaring, he expresses zero interest in curing a country torn apart by structural inequity.
He is leaving it to governors to figure out state-by-state reopening plans. Meanwhile, he mocks calls for bipartisan unity, such as the one just made by former president George W. Bush. Yet Trump, who views a pandemic in terms of red or blue constituencies, told Baier that he’s “shocked that during a crisis it would be so partisan.”
Against the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial, Trump also rambled on about the “impeachment hoax” and whined, “Every enemy I have is put on a Democrat committee.”
Not for him, this bit of wisdom from Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
And while Lincoln proclaimed, “I am for those means which shall give the greatest good to the greatest number,” Trump won’t speak up for the greatest good — not if it means speaking out against armed demonstrators gathering to protest lockdown rules designed to deter the spread of the coronavirus.
“As president, what do you say to the people who are scared to go back to work, on one side? And what do you say to the people who are really angry about these lingering closures?” asked Baier.
Responded Trump: “Well, I think you can satisfy both. . . . I think you can really have it both ways.”
Trump’s recognition of actual victims of COVID-19 comes in small spurts, sandwiched between odes to self and anger toward those who fail to appreciate the brilliant job he has done. “We shouldn’t lose one person over this,” he said during the town hall. But the ones he mentioned were his friends. Even those citizens who called in to the town hall with questions drew scant attention from Trump. He really didn’t answer queries posed by an out-of-work single mom trying to process an unemployment claim; a teacher and a student wondering about school reopening plans; or a small-business owner left out of the stimulus package.
And Trump basically ignored the essence of a question from a retired nurse and elementary school guidance counselor, who praised Trump but asked him why he used words “that could be classified as bullying and why do you not directly answer questions asked by the press, but instead speak of past successes and generally ramble?” Concerning his press hostility, Trump finally found an affinity with Lincoln, telling the woman, “They always said, ‘Lincoln, nobody got treated worse than Lincoln.’ I believe I am treated worse.”
Of course, Lincoln, who was assassinated in April 1865, did preside over a country divided over the ending of slavery.
Now comes Trump all these years later, daring to use the Lincoln Memorial as a backdrop for his divide and conquer philosophy of government — even in a pandemic.
A previous version of this column contained a quote attributed to Lincoln that some historians dispute.