It’s Already Happened Here — History Repeats to Our SHAME
t was 1855, and Abraham Lincoln was in a mood.
“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid,” he wrote to his friend Joshua Speed, describing the rise of the bigoted, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party. “As a nation, we begin 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 he characterized an American republic convulsed with heated debates about race, immigration, and political representation, Lincoln delivered an oddly prescient diagnosis of America in 2017, as we witness another series of bigoted, know-nothing assaults on our national unity. How did it happen, pundits wonder, that a 240-year-old democracy has descended into the sort of authoritarian ethno-nationalist rancor normally associated with antidemocratic states like contemporary Uzbekistan or infamous totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany? How did a “nation built on immigration” come to propose a ban on Muslims and mass deportation of Mexicans? Why are White House cabinet posts now filled with executives seemingly selected to destroy the agencies they lead? Why are our legislative and judiciary branches on the verge of caving in to a power-hungry executive branch that resembles, as Daniel Webster wrote, in an 1832 warning of his own, “nothing else but pure despotism”? And, um, who is really running that executive branch anyway?