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“No ‘Great Brain’ Here”: Donald Trump Has Never Had Any Idea What He Was Talking About. We Only Just Noticed

Usually it is fine not to have any idea what you are talking about.

But for a presidential candidate it can be a little awkward.

Asked by Bob Woodward what made Abraham Lincoln succeed, Donald Trump offered the following response:

“Well,” Trump said, “I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time.” And then he started to ramble about Richard Nixon.

As Katherine Miller asked on Twitter, “Does Donald Trump know what Lincoln did as president?”

Most of us go through life pretending to know many things about which, in fact, we have no idea. Usually this is fine. This is the foundation on which all conversation is built. If you admit the contrary, everything would screech to a halt. So instead you listen and nod and say, “I don’t think that goes far enough” or “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” at intervals.

You can have a long discussion about the TPP and only discover months later that one of the people discussing it with you thought that it was some sort of innovation in toilet paper. (In retrospect, this explains some of why the discussion got so heated, though by no means all.)

Usually this is innocuous. There is just too much TV for us to have watched it all, and pretending you have can sometimes save a relationship.

There are many conversational gambits for not appearing ignorant of the thing that everyone else in the room appears to know about. One is that you wait for someone else to say something, and then you say, “I agree with Marco, but I think we need to go much further.” Another is you say one thing, and then you pretend it was a joke when everyone stares at you in horror, and then you say the opposite. Another tactic is to pretend you did not hear the question. Or you can divert the conversation from the thing you were just asked that you in fact know nothing about to something that you do know about. You can do this with varying degrees of subtlety, as Trump has the whole campaign.

But if someone asks you point-blank, “What is my fiance’s name?” you can’t say, “Look, fundamentally, it all comes down to breaking up the banks.”

When we do it, it’s fine. We could Google it any time we want. We need these little concessions.

But when a candidate does it —

The trick of turning these into gaffes is that there are some things that everyone knows, in theory. The capitals of countries. Who’s on the supreme court. How the electoral college works.

In theory, we know this. But in practice, there is genuine dramatic tension in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” — because there are many things we have agreed that Everyone Knows that, in fact, maybe six people know off the top of their heads. But then there are things everyone actually does know in practice, and those are the stuff of which gaffes are made. How a grocery checkout works. That John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy are not the same. What Abraham Lincoln did.

Now Trump and Bernie Sanders, the two most consistent and exciting candidates, are being hoist by their own transcripts. Sanders kept trying to insist that the answer to every foreign policy question was a vote he had made in 2002. Which — okay? It works without a follow-up. But with follow-up, it can be devastating. (Daily News: “Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?” Sanders: “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”)

Trump’s charisma has been hard to quell. Insinuating that all his fans were failures and bigots didn’t do it. But revealing that he is not, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader — that he lacks a “great brain” — just might.

The great sustaining myth of Trump was that behind the scenes there was a guy who knew what he was doing and that he would eventually emerge from the fray and be “so presidential” that “you will be bored to tears.”

Up until this past week, Trump had managed to coast by on charisma for the 30 seconds of answer required.

Here he is at the first debate:

BAIER: His name is General Qassem Soleimani, he’s blamed for hundreds of U.S. troops death in Iraq, and Afghanistan. His trip to Russia appears to directly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions to confine him to Iran. So, Mr. Trump, if you were president, how would you respond to this?

TRUMP: I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite. We have a president who doesn’t have a clue. I would say he’s incompetent, but I don’t want to do that because that’s not nice. (Applause, laughter)

What?

But remove the laughter and the applause and you have — a man who is very clearly not answering the question and is fumbling around for an answer until he finds an applause-worthy talking point. And when he has to answer a question for more than 30 seconds, that becomes painfully obvious.

“I have a great brain” is a nice, easy statement to disprove.

Read any transcript and it is just The Donald helplessly repeating the same simple third-grade-level phrases over and over again. It’s not presidential, just boring.

 

By: Alexandra Petri, ComPost Blog, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Promises Not Yet Recognized”: Enshrine The Right To Vote In The Constitution

Flags flew at half mast, schoolchildren recited the “Gettysburg Address” and for a few hours on April 15, America paused to remember that a century and a half ago this country lost its 16th president to an assassin’s bullet.

Now, Americans can finish with the pause and begin to fully honor Lincoln.

The place of beginning is with an embrace of the work of reconstruction that was imagined when Lincoln lived but that is not—even now—complete.

President Obama proclaimed April 15 as a National Day of Remembrance for President Abraham Lincoln, declaring, “Today, we reflect on the extraordinary progress he made possible, and with one voice, we rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring a Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Obama was right to focus on Lincoln’s great preachment on behalf of American democracy. It directs our attention toward the mission to which small “d” democrats of all partisanships and ideologies must rededicate ourselves.

One hundred and fifty years after the moment when a still young country saw the end of a Civil War and the assassination of a president, the events of April 1865 continue to shape and challenge the American experience.

With Lincoln’s death, an inept and wrongheaded vice president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the presidency. Had it been left to Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the progress extending from the great sacrifices of the Civil War would have been imperiled. But the rough outlines for securing the victory were not left to a president. They were enshrined in the US Constitution.

Three amendments to the founding document were enacted during the five-year period from 1865 to 1870. These “Reconstruction Amendments”were transformational statements—even if their promise has yet to be fully recognized or realized.

The first of the amendments addressed the great failure of the founding moment: a “compromise” that recognized—and effectively permitted—human bondage.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution affirmed that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Those words confronted the indefensible “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which was outlined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution as it was framed in 1787. That paragraph did not speak specifically of slavery, but instead referred to two groups of Americans: “the whole Number of free Persons” and “all other Persons.”

The 13th Amendment was an essential step toward an official embrace of Thomas Jefferson’s “immortal declaration”of 1776—that “all men are created equal.”

But it was not enough.

To the 13th Amendment of 1865 was added the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which confirmed that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The 14th Amendment, remarkable in its clarity and detail, provided for due process and equal protection under the law.

But it was not enough.

To the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 and the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 was added the 15th Amendment of 1870, which avowed that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Congress was given the power to enforce these articles by appropriate legislation.

But that was still not enough, as became obvious with the collapse of Reconstruction and the establishment of “Jim Crow” segregation in states that had been part of the Confederacy. With these ruptures came overt discrimination against voting rights.

It took more than a century of litigation, boycotts, protests and marches to restore the promise of equal protection and voting rights.

But that was not enough.

Despite the protections delineated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (which in 1964 formally banned poll taxes), headlines remind us that the right to vote is “still threatened.” The US Supreme Court has mangled the Voting Rights Act, and the Congress has failed to repair the damage done. The Brennan Center for Justice has determined that at least 83 restrictive bills were introduced in 29 states where legislatures had floor activity in 2014, including proposals to require a photo ID, make voter registration more difficult, reduce early voting opportunities, and make it harder for students to vote.

“The stark and simple truth is this—the right to vote is threatened today—in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” said President Obama.

The great American process of forming a more perfect union is far from complete. The events of 150 years ago were not the end of anything. They were a pivot point that took the United States in a better direction. But the was incomplete, and insufficient to establish justice. So the process continues.

That is why Congressmen Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, have proposed to amend the Constitution to declare clearly and unequivocally that

“SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

“SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Pocan-Ellison amendment will not, in and of itself, form a more perfect union. But it provides a tool for those who understand that we best honor our history by recognizing unmet promises—and seeking, finally, to keep them.

“A core principle of our democracy is the ability for citizens to participate in the election of their representatives,” explains Pocan. “We have seen constant attempts by some states to erode voting rights and make it harder for citizens to vote. This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen. As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Democracy, U. S. Constitution, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You May Forgive Us, But We Won’t Be Forgiven”: After 150 Years, Dixie Still A Place Apart

On the day after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Abraham Lincoln appeared at a second-floor window of the White House. He was acceding to the wishes of citizens who had gathered to serenade their president in this moment of victory. They called for a speech but Lincoln demurred. Instead he asked the band to play “Dixie.”

The song — a homesick Southerner’s lament — had been the de facto anthem of the Confederacy during 48 bloody months of civil war, but Lincoln declared now that the South held no monopoly on it. “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard,” he said. It was probably his way of encouraging a nation that had ripped itself apart along sectional lines to begin knitting itself together again.

Lincoln received an answer of sorts two days later as beaten rebels surrendered their weapons to the Union Army. Union General Joshua Chamberlain remarked to Southern counterpart Henry Wise that perhaps now “brave men may become good friends.”

Wise’s reply was bitter as smoke. “You’re mistaken, sir,” he said. “You may forgive us, but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, sir.”Two days after that, April 14, Lincoln received a more direct response. John Wilkes Booth, famed actor and Southern sympathizer, shot him in the head.

Thus ended arguably the most consequential week in American history. This week, the events of that week move fully 150 years into the past. They are further away than they have ever been. And yet, they feel quite close. If the “hate” Henry Wise spoke of has dissipated in the 15 decades gone by, what has not faded is Dixie’s sense of itself as a place apart and a people done wrong. Small wonder.

Twice now — at gunpoint in the 1860s, by force of law a century later — the rest of the country has imposed change on the South, made it do what it did not want to do, i.e., extend basic human rights to those it had systematically brutalized and oppressed. No other part of the country has ever experienced that, has ever seen itself so harshly chastised by the rest.

Both times, the act was moral and necessary. But who can deny, or be surprised, that in forcing the South to do the right thing, the rest of the country fostered an abiding resentment, an enduring “apartness,” made the South a region defined by resistance. Name the issue — immigration, race, abortion, education, criminal justice — and law and custom in Dixie have long stood stubbornly apart from the rest of the country. But the headline 150 years later is that that apartness no longer confines itself to the boundaries of the Confederacy.

In 2015, for example, we see the old pattern repeating in the fight over marriage equality — most of the country having decided as a moral matter that this has to happen, yet a few people resisting as the change is imposed over their wishes. But if resistance is fierce in Arkansas, it also is fierce in Indiana. The sense of apartness is less geographically constrained. Who knows if that’s progress?

There is nothing predestined about America’s ultimate ability to overcome its contradictions. This was true in 1865 and it’s true now. It will always be true of a people bound, not by common ancestry but only common cause — a presumed fealty to self-evident truths.

America shattered in 1861. Lincoln forced the bloody pieces back together at the cost of over 600,000 lives, one of them his own. It never did knit itself back together in the way he had hoped — in the way he might have helped it to, had he survived.

Instead, it became this once broken thing where the seams of repair still show. And the question of that consequential week is the question of every day since then. Can you make a country out of that?

So far, so good.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 5, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Deep South | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Sort This Out”: Aaron Schock Or Abraham Lincoln? A Handy Guide

Anyone who’s followed the brief career of disgraced congressman Aaron Schock is well aware of the countless, almost eerie similarities between he and fellow Illinoisian Abraham Lincoln. It came as no surprise, therefore, when Schock, who may soon face criminal charges, compared himself to our 16th president during his farewell speech this week. Far from a pathetic attempt at saving face by a profoundly delusional narcissist, Schock’s speech was a soaring, 21st-century version of the Gettysburg Address, but with more grammatical errors.

“Abraham Lincoln held this seat in Congress for one term,” Schock said in remarks that will be transcribed and filed in the Library of Congress where they’ll remain for the life of our republic. “But few faced as many defeats in his personal and public life as he did [nor will we ever know if he, too, would have had his offices decorated like the hit PBS program Downton Abbey because, sadly, his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet before television could be invented].”

It is not hard to imagine the sound of his colleagues’ audible gasps echoing through that mostly empty chamber like so many newly freed slaves, audibly gasping in a mostly empty chamber.

Yes, Schock and the Great Emancipator are nearly indistinguishable, so I’ve put together this handy chart to help tell these two great Americans apart.

Schock: First name starts with “A”

Lincoln: First name starts with “A”

Schock: First member of Congress born in the 1980s

Lincoln: Dead

Schock: Started a garage-organization business called Garage Tek

Lincoln: Abolished slavery

Schock: Ran a successful write-in campaign for a seat on his local school board

Lincoln: Lost the 1858 Illinois senate race after some debates with Stephen Douglas

Schock: Spent more than $100,000 in public funds on office decorations

Lincoln: Helped establish a national currency

Schock: Criticized for lavish lifestyle

Lincoln: Abolished slavery

Schock: Appeared shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health in 2011

Lincoln: Appeared gaunt and wizened while successfully executing the American Civil War

Schock: Notable quote: “Haters gonna hate.”

Lincoln: Notable quote: “That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” though, in fairness, he also could have said “haters gonna hate” at some point. Who knows? It’s not impossible.

Schock: Overcharged the government for mileage reimbursements

Lincoln: Suspended habeas corpus, expanded executive powers, and once signed the execution orders for 39 Sioux insurgents

Schock: Publicly supported waterboarding and other torture techniques

Lincoln: Did not do that

Schock: Voted against expanding hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability

Lincoln: Abolished slavery

Schock: Asshat

Lincoln: Top hat

I hope this comparison chart has been helpful. If you’re still confused, remember this rule of thumb: Lincoln was probably the greatest president in American history, while Schock looks like a high school girls’ basketball coach who’s always trying to give the players back massages.

 

By: Joe Randazzo, The Daily Beast, March 28, 2015

March 29, 2015 Posted by | Aaron Schock, Abraham Lincoln, Illinois | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Regrettable Ignorance”: Don’t Know Much About History, Rick Perry Edition

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), still an unannounced presidential candidate, campaigned in New Hampshire last week and told a group of voters that he and Abraham Lincoln share an ideological bond.

“Lincoln read the Constitution, and he also read the Bill of Rights, and he got down to the Tenth Amendment, and he liked it,” Perry boasted. “That Tenth Amendment that talks about these states, these laboratories of democracy…. The Tenth Amendment that the federal government is limited, its powers are limited by the Constitution.”

It’s easy to understand how the Texan might be confused. Lincoln and Perry share a party label, so the former governor apparently assumes they share a political outlook, too. And given that Lincoln was arguably the nation’s greatest president, it stands to reason that the Texas Republican, like most candidates, would want to associate himself with the Lincoln legacy.

The problem, however, is that Perry has no idea what he’s talking about. Josh Zeitz, who taught American history and politics at Cambridge and Princeton, explained the other day that the former Texas governor “got Lincoln backwards” and Perry’s entire argument “betrays a regrettable ignorance of Lincoln’s political outlook.”

Before he reluctantly became a Republican, Abraham Lincoln was a lifelong Whig – a party founded in opposition to Andrew Jackson and in support of a strong and active central state…. A passionate supporter of Henry Clay’s “American System,” Lincoln believed that states should ultimately be subordinate to a strong federal government, and that Washington had a big role to play in matters as far and wide as internal improvements, currency, banking and taxation. […]

As president, Lincoln vastly expanded the federal government’s role…. Maybe Rick Perry spent too much time reading from those widely disputed history and government standards that the Texas Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, foisted on textbook publishers. Whatever the cause, he’s confusing Abraham Lincoln – erstwhile Whig and promoter of a strong central government – for a strict Tenth Amendment devotee. That, he certainly was not.

As Jon Chait reminded me, Perry has also flirted openly with the idea of state secession, which probably wouldn’t have impressed the president who won the Civil War.

In 2009, the then-governor was so eager to show his contempt for President Obama that Perry denounced the United States government as “oppressive,” arguing that it was “time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas.” Soon after, he said he doesn’t want to “dissolve” the union of the United States, “But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

Around the same time, Perry said of Texas, “[W]hen we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

I won’t pretend to be a Lincoln scholar, but I’m comfortable describing the iconic American president as someone who wasn’t comfortable with the idea of state secession.

All of this must be terribly inconvenient for Republicans. Lincoln believed in a strong federal government, a progressive income tax, and considerable infrastructure investments, making him sound an awful lot like a Democrat by 21st-century standards. Indeed, some conservatives who’ve read up on Lincoln see him as something of an enemy – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) co-wrote a book with a neo-Confederate who boasted that he raises “a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s birthday.”

Perry may want to take Lincoln back as some kind of conservative hero, but he’ll have to ignore literally every historical detail to make the case to unsuspecting voters.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 17, 2015

February 19, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Republicans, Rick Perry | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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