This clever but somewhat deceptive meme is appealing because it intimates that the “vote your conscience” idea has legs. The only way that will work is if we ALL follow through – it has to happen at the voter level – and that is the point of this non-partisan post.
Of course, that didn’t happen. It couldn’t this time. A national nightmare was assured.
If, like me, you don’t like what you saw our two major parties do this cycle then consider how we might make ancient history repeat itself. As you read the following keep in mind that, of course, the circumstances of the 2016 presidential election were different than when Lincoln and the Republicans rose to power in the late 1850s. Yet the lesson applies because that change happened during a time when the country was deeply divided, and it occurred at the party level. That last part is exactly what I’ve been talking about the past few months in other posts. Voters must regain control of their parties. The present situation has the two dominant parties colluding to choke out third party challengers who rise to popularity despite efforts by party leadership to squelch their message. In this way a small elite in each party chooses our leaders through a corrupt and self-serving process, not us.
Gimme Back My Whig
Once upon a time we had Whigs and Democrats but no Republicans. In a very small and summary nutshell, the Whig party’s undoing involved the struggle over slavery. The Republican party (est. 1854 – just six years before Lincoln was elected!) achieved critical mass in 1858 when it won the House following the Dred Scott decision (for law nurdz, find it at 60 U.S. 393 (1857)). Then, in 1860, when Lincoln won the presidency, the Republicans also won the Senate and thus controlled the entire US government. The Whigs were choked out.
The Political Mosh Pit
Here’s the really interesting part – the political party scene circa 1858-1860 was a mosh pit. While the Whig body politic lay suddenly a-mouldering in its grave, the Democrats split into two factions – North and South – and fielded 2 candidates (Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge…John who???). There also was a shiny new Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell (…John who???). A few lesser impactful contestants also participated but never mind them. These guys mostly fought over the Southern portion of the pie and diluted each other.
The modern Democratic party was afraid that would happen in 2016, albeit involving a very different demographic, as disaffected voters cast their ballots for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein instead of Hillary Clinton during the general election. As it turned out, Johnson and Stein were statistically insignificant. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, however, developed wide support among voter demographics that threatened Clinton. The party came to her rescue and, in doing so, lost the trust of a very large segment of moderate, liberal and progressive voters. That contributed to Clinton’s historic failure.
Was it coincidence that party misbehavior caused Lincoln’s election, or Trump’s? Hell. And. No.
Back to Tuesday, Nov. 6, 1860: Lincoln won 180 electoral votes to his opponents’ combined 123. He only needed to win 152. The Republicans, riding a powerful political tidal wave following the Whig implosion, exploited their weakened and divided opponents and won with zero support from the South.
The rest, as they say, is history. By the time of his election Lincoln and the nascent Republican party quickly filled the Whig void.
Lincoln, the False Third Party Candidate
The Lincoln meme is technically false because, technically, he wasn’t a third party candidate at all. He was the new 2nd party candidate. But the point the meme appears to make is well-taken – don’t accept substandard product simply because “your” party wants you to. Don’t be afraid to be an agent of change for the better. It’s our constitutional duty!
Interesting cautionary note: the house, being deeply divided against itself, could not stand. It did not stand, at least in its original form. Southern states began to secede from the Union almost immediately after Lincoln’s election. The Civil War broke out in April 1861, just 6 months after Lincoln was elected, when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter. A new and stronger Union emerged from the fire and the nation rose to become, and remains, the greatest world power in history. For all our faults, there is no better nation on Earth. (If you disagree I’ll have my Attorney General investigate you and throw you in jail. )
Despite Donald J. Trump’s surprise win, we don’t appear to face the threat of secession, but the internal divides in our nation are just as insidious. The political landscape will never be the same again. Some say the outrageous and wildly false things Trump said during the campaign were simply for the purpose of the campaign and he’s about to betray the republican establishment and “do a 180” on them. Since inauguration, Trump has shown even less concern for truth than he did during the campaign, lying about mundane things such as the size of the crowd attending his inauguration to serious issues that may lead to constitutional crisis, such as aiding and abetting a foreign power to interfere with the presidential electoral process, his financial ties and exposure to Russian politicians and oligarchs, attacking Gold Star families and taunting nuclear madmen. The problem is so severe that there now is a website devoted to tracking “Trump’s Lies.”
A little peaceful revolution is a good thing. The power of voting your conscience should by now be clear. Please. It’s the red-white-and-blue thing to do. It gave us the greatest president this nation ever had. Neither of the 2016 main party candidates would ever fill Lincoln’s shoes. Trump certainly won’t. He’s just looking ahead to his next deal with a major entertainment network, taunting a nuclear madman, defending violent racists and white supremacists, attacking sports figures and throwing red meat to the 35% of voters who either do not understand or do not care that by supporting him they do great injury to their own interests.
If you want to join me in a deeper dive down the rabbit hole, below is a link to some supplemental reading that lightly explores a heavy topic: why some say the Constitution predisposes American politics to a two-party system (Duverger’s Law), much as the thought irritates me as I channel surf the political news spectrum that is consumed with disappearing emails and…pussy grabbing.
Our work is cut out for us in 2018 and 2020. Resist.
God save us, from ourselves.
Love and peace, SNL