Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The cyclic transmogrification of the Republican Party

Jerry Stratton, September 26, 2018

Lincoln: half slave and half free

“[They will allow us peace only] if we will all stop and allow Judge Douglas and his friends to… plant the institution [of slavery] all over the nation…”

Following the election of a “coarse”, “vulgar clown” of a Republican, “a man of no intelligence”, to the presidency, establishment politicians got together in Washington to save the policies he threatened to destroy. Republicans were begged by a tearful resistance—and establishment—to betray the extremists who elected them. Many Republicans listened more to the establishment than to the voters who elected them. Republicans loyal to the President feared—and Democrats and establishment Republicans hoped—that the electoral college would interfere and block this radical “ignoramus” from the White House. “Wise statesmen” reminded the Republican president-elect that he had been elected without a majority of votes cast and implored him to maintain the policies of his Democrat predecessor.

Mobs ruled the streets protesting the election. The country was as literally divided as it could ever be.

The year was 1860; the candidate was our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. And the Democrat’s policy that the DC establishment tried to save was slavery. Republicans who opposed slavery were disparagingly called “ultras” by the DC establishment. That is, extremists, outside the pale of cultured Washington. When real extremists had earlier raided Harper’s Ferry in then-Virginia, the Democrats and their press tried to pin the violence on Republicans.1

The resistance outside of the government did their best to undermine the new administration. Copperheadism flourished in “areas that had been solidly in favor of the Democrats… treasonous activities of all kinds were prevalent in these sections.”2

And the deep state resistance within the government? They did whatever they could to undermine the new president, even going as far as to “strip Northern armories by sending materials of war into the South…”.3

Even the charge of hate speech is as old as Lincoln. The Democrats accused the president of causing the national division that they themselves had created. They accused Republicans of hate speech by defining hate speech as saying that slavery is wrong—and then tried to outlaw such divisive speech.1 From Charlottesville to the resistance, it’s hard to imagine a more similar political climate to ours than that in which Lincoln ran for and won the presidency, without an actual war. And sometimes it looks like the left and Democrats are angling for that, too.

Lincoln even presaged Thomas Sowell’s theory that Democrats blame the failure of their policy not on any inherent defects, but upon people silently disagreeing with them:

Silence will not be tolerated—we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

All of which makes the meltdown by today’s Democrats a darkly humorous, to people who follow history, bit of projection. For example, this meme I saw recently on Facebook:

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons. ... Republicans: The No. 1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb, and dangerous.

This is funny not just because it displays an incredible lack of introspection on the part of Democrats. It’s darkly funny because this is the same rhetoric they used to defend slavery. The swamp has been saying this about the party of Lincoln since, literally, Lincoln.

And I mean literally:

The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.

That’s from the Chicago Times, about the Gettysburg Address. From the dripping disdain of someone outside their social circle to the appeal to foreign appearances, it could have been written by the same person who wrote the Facebook meme passed around by my friends on the left.

Other newspapers chose to passive-aggressively ignore Lincoln’s now-famous speech:

We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the Nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.

There is a failure of imagination that’s been part of the Democratic Party since at least before the Civil War. There’s an old joke about slavery that wasn’t really a joke: in response to Lincoln’s warning that the United States could not remain half slave and half free, Democrats replied, why not make it all slave? Slavery is such a caring institution that northern workers will benefit from it just as much as southern blacks do. What we really need, said Democrats like George Fitzhugh, is a system of universal slavery, because:

…the unrestricted exploitation of so-called free society is more oppressive to the laborer than domestic slavery.

Freedom is slavery; slavery is freedom. You’ll be better off the more decisions we make for you. Even back then, Democrats liked to define words as their opposite, so as to hide behind obfuscations.

They still make this kind of argument today. When steadily more insane government policies have raised the cost of health insurance and health care to the point where a small number of people can neither afford health insurance nor qualify for government assistance, Democrats don’t roll back the government policies that raise the cost of health care, nor even raise the threshold by which people qualify for assistance. They pass a system that makes everybody’s choices for them. No one likes to make decisions about their own health care, they say. We’ll all be better off if they make the decisions about what coverage we have and what doctors and providers we use.

When murderers target areas where only criminals are allowed to be armed, Democrats don’t enforce the laws against criminals being armed, nor do they decrease the number of areas where they are the only ones allowed to be armed. Democrats argue that we need more areas where only criminals are allowed to be armed. We’ll all be better off if they make the decisions about who is protected from criminals and who is not.

It’s the same old argument that Fitzhugh used to make. We'll all be better off once Democrats take over our lives, and we’ll love them for our bondage.

A state of dependence is the only condition in which reciprocal affection can exist among human beings—the only situation in which the war of competition ceases, and peace, amity and good will arise…

It’s the same old argument that Lincoln had to address:

They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of kingcraft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people—not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument and this argument of the judge is the same old serpent that says, “You work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it.” — Abraham Lincoln (The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln)

This never-ending cycle of resistance to reform was set from the beginning in the swamp’s support for slavery following Lincoln’s election. After Lincoln won, and before he took office the swamp got together in DC to oppose—does this sound familiar?—the soon-to-be-new president’s policies. Their goal was peace at all costs; more specifically, it was to preserve the swamp at all costs. And if that meant maintaining slavery and even spreading slavery, well, that was a cost the DC establishment—Democrats, for the most part—was willing to pay.

That Facebook quote reminded me of Mark Tooley’s The Peace That Almost Was. It’s a fascinating book about the establishment getting together to save their own phoney-baloney jobs, in the name of maintaining peace and preserving slavery. It’s difficult to read it without seeing reflections in the entrenched administrative state’s attempts to oppose President Trump, and the press’s and establishment’s attempts to denigrate his supporters. As one Tennessee delegate wrote,

“The Peace Conference sat a month in Washington and employed every effort to win to reason the stubborn fanaticism of the party that sustains the president, all in vain.”

The effort to reason with those stubborn Republicans was spearheaded by a former President. President Tyler opposed Lincoln during the election, and:

After Lincoln’s election he pronounced the nation had “fallen on evil times,” with “madness” and demagoguery prevailing over statesmanship.

Much the same way that the establishment today projects their failings onto the current President, this was projection then, and it is projection now. Slavery was madness; Lincoln’s election was a providential ray of sanity. And the evil of the times was the result of Democrats resisting Lincoln’s election.

The language the establishment uses against Trump today mirrors exactly the language they used against Lincoln. Our problem today is not that Republicans have transmogrified since Lincoln, but that Democrats have not. The language they used to oppose Lincoln has been recycled by Democrats and the DC establishment throughout the decades and centuries. It is still used today. They are still acting like we’d all be better off enslaved to them.

Threats, harassment, and dependence. The amazing thing is not how much Republicans have changed. It’s how little Democrats have changed.

The bitterness of feeling raging in the country had concentrated itself upon the person of this one man who was about to take office as President. Threats of personal violence and of actual assassination had begun even before election; they were to continue all through his administration. — Philip Van Doren Stern (The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln)

In response to Embarrassed by our president: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

  1. Stephen A. Douglas, trying to use Harper’s Ferry to bully Republicans into forgoing all opposition to slavery:

    The Harper’s Ferry crime was the natural, logical, inevitable result of the doctrines and teachings of the Republican Party, as explained and enforced in their platform, their partisan presses, their pamphlets and books, and especially in the speeches of their leaders in and out of Congress…

    Is not the Republican Party still embodied, organized, confident of success, and defiant in its pretensions? Does it not now hold and proclaim the same creed that it did before the invasion? It is true that most of its representatives here disavow the act of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. I am glad that they do so; I am rejoiced that they have gone thus far; but I must be permitted to say to them that it is not sufficient that they disavow the act, unless they also repudiate and denounce the doctrines and teachings which produced the act. Those doctrines remain the same; those teachings are being poured into the minds of men throughout the country by means of speeches and pamphlets and books, and through partizan presses. — Stephen A. Douglas (The Candidature for the Presidency in eight years of Stephen A. Douglas)

  2. Philip Van Doren Stern, The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, p. 115.

  3. Philip Van Doren Stern, The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, p. 92.

  1. Lincoln-Douglas ->