21 December 2016

Notes from Norm: Trump’s Lincolnian Team of Rivals

I often look to Abraham Lincoln for inspiration.

Our nation’s 16th President, the second child of Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, was born in a one-room log cabin.

He came from virtually nothing to become the leader of what would become the most powerful nation on Earth.

That would never have occurred had we remained a house divided.

The challenging times in which he lived and governed demanded greatness.

Lincoln rose to the occasion.

But, his greatness was not preordained.

He was not the first choice of the party faithful to become the nominee. He prevailed in a divided convention and governed in a divided nation. Lincoln was the first president from the Republican Party.

And, with no ballots cast for him in 10 of 15 southern states, Lincoln won only two of 996 counties in those states.

Despite winning a plurality of the vote, Lincoln’s victory was assured in the electoral college.

The coming Civil War seems to have been the obvious outcome of the election of 1860.

Yet, as much as we benefit from the hindsight of 156 years of history this post isn’t about the Civil War that nearly tore the nation apart.

It’s about the Civil War that brought the nation together.

I don’t write of the Civil War between the states.

But, of the Civil War that took place within Lincoln’s Administration from the time he took office until the time of his death.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s seminal book, “Team of Rivals”, is a historical primer that Americans would do well to read in this time of Trump.

In it Goodwin recounts the construction of Lincoln’s Administration from his election to his death.

Three of the men Lincoln appointed to his cabinet had run against him.

One of them, Salmen Chase, plots from within his post in Lincoln’s Administration to replace him as the Republican nominee in the next election.

Despite his disloyalty, Lincoln keeps Chase in his Administration because of the success he has in helping to finance the Union’s war effort.

Throughout his term, Lincoln builds on the division within his Administration.  He brings others who are supporters of those who have stood against him inside of his Administration.

One might think Lincoln mad and naïve for creating this “Team of Rivals” to help him lead America, and to win the Civil War.

Or, as history shows us, Lincoln’s brilliance, whether intended or an act of historical accident and coincidence, surrounding one with those who think and act like you is no guarantee of success.

Lincoln’s brilliance was not apparent in 1860.  In fact, the logic of bringing those who bitterly opposed you in an election – and keep those on your Team who wanted to topple you from your post – was not evident 156 years ago.

Today, historians, for the most part, credit Lincoln’s decision to bring the best and the brightest into his Administration despite their dislike, distrust and dismissal of him and his Presidency as the significant reason for the ultimate success in winning the Civil War.

With the Electoral College concluding that Donald Trump has been officially elected America’s next President,  we can see the construction of an Administration that is following a Lincolnian path.

Trump has been open to talking to, and appointing, those who were his rivals for the office he will soon hold.  He’s been open to standing apart from his campaign rhetoric to create the platform he needs to stand on to successfully lead America forward.

In positions that will hold the key to Trump’s desire to grow the economy and allow the creation of millions of new jobs and represent the face of America to the world he has put forward the names of men and women who did not stand with him during his campaign for President.

His choice for Housing and Urban Development was a direct competitor for the job of President.  His choice for Ambassador for the United Nations had little positive to say about him and stood with another candidate during the campaign.

Others, like Mitt Romney, who voiced serious doubts and waged aggressive opposition to his nomination, have come forward to offer themselves for serve in his Administration.

My own early and strong opposition to Trump has given way to the understanding that a divided America serves no useful purpose to my desire to see a united and successful future for our nation.

The bitter divisions resulting from this bruising election will not soon be healed. But it’s not in America’s interest to perpetuate those divisions now that the election is over. As tough as it is for some to accept, Trump won and Clinton lost. It’s time to move on.

I know Abraham Lincoln through my study and understanding of history.

Donald Trump is no Abraham Lincoln.

Yet, like Lincoln, Trump has seemingly come to understand that his Administration will be stronger because of its differences than because of its sameness.

And, the stronger Donald Trump’s Administration is in confronting the great challenges and opportunities that lies before it, the stronger America’s future will be in the future.