Aspiring to the level of Lincoln

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Aspiring to the level of Lincoln

LIM JONG-JU
The author is the Washington bureau chiefof the JoongAng Ilbo.


In mid-August, it was sizzling hot in Gettysburg, a small village 110 kilometers (68 miles) north of Washington, D.C. The three-day battle had ended with the Union’s victory 157 years ago. The village was said to be filled with foul smells from the bodies of 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 horses.

On Nov. 19, 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln headed to Gettysburg and dedicated the burial ground to the dead. His speech is carved in the memorial, which reads, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

American writer Herman Melville, best known for “Moby Dick,” dedicated the poem “Gettysburg,” in which he wrote, “Soldier and priest with hymn and prayer have laid the stone, and every bone shall rest in honor there.”

U.S. President Eisenhower, who is revered as the hero of Normandy Landing, spent his post-presidency at Gettysburg. The town is considered the site of painful memories and a sacred ground of the Civil War.

U.S. President Donald Trump was met with backlash when he considered Gettysburg as a possible site for his Republican candidate acceptance speech. The justification for criticism is that it goes against the Hatch Act, which restricts public servants’ partisan activities or their mobilization. But the essence is that Trump touched the implicit sentiment that a historic site should not serve for interests of a certain political faction.

Aspiring to the rank of Lincoln and eager to add his face on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Trump announced his reelection campaign from the South Lawn of the White House last week, which is still not free from a possible Hatch Act violation. He openly attacked Joe Biden — who called Trump’s first term “the dark age” — as “a Trojan horse for socialism” and “the destroyer of American greatness.”

Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech is inarguably the masterpiece of the century, but the response at the time was quite different. The Chicago Daily Tribune praised it saying, “the dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man,” while the Chicago Times wrote, “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances,” according to the Cornell University archive.

Trump’s acceptance speech drew mixed responses. People have either anticipation or cynicism depending on their political affiliations — not so different from the atmosphere during Lincoln’s time. How will future generations evaluate Trump? History’s evaluation is not often generous. It will be harsh and strict, as it has always been.
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