A new CNN documentary series about Abraham Lincoln, “Lincoln: Divided We Stand,” purports to “take viewers on a transcendent journey into the life and times of this iconic U.S. president,” and, according to CNN writer and producer John Blake, there’s a looming question about Lincoln that “every serious student of his legacy must eventually address.”
That question is whether Abraham Lincoln was a racist.
It seems a silly question to ask of the Great Emancipator, yet, it’s nevertheless one that seems to be rearing its head in the era of cancel culture, where Lincoln’s name has been considered for removal from schools, and statues of him taken down. To Blake’s credit, he presents both sides of the argument from scholars who argue Lincoln was racist and those who say he was not. Blake’s own examination of Lincoln’s racial attitudes ends with the conclusion that “Maybe we should stop asking if Lincoln was a racist.”
By today’s standards, Lincoln would be considered racist. Slavery was still a longstanding institution when he brought our country to war to end it. Yet, to the woke left, Lincoln, who waged war to end slavery is no less racist than the Founding Fathers who owned slaves and didn’t abolish slavery as they sought to form our constitutional republic in order to keep the states unified.
Should any of this matter? The answer is no. If men who did great things can have their contributions erased for merely holding widely accepted attitudes of their time, then acceptable “woke” history will eventually dwindle down to nothing but the very recent past.
Make no mistake about it. There most certainly isn’t a revered historical figure that meets the radical left’s current definition of woke-ness.
For example, despite his well-known efforts at desegregation, as a U.S. senator, John F. Kennedy opposed Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1957 Civil Rights Act, and was a reluctant public supporter of civil rights, only embracing the movement when he ran for president. Similarly, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t hold the same views on LGBT issues espoused by the political left today.
Heck, most of the Democratic Party of twenty-five years ago didn’t, either.
President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and permitted states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. The law passed the House with 118 Democrats voting for it and passed the Senate with only 14 Democrats opposing it. One Democrat senator who supported DOMA was Joe Biden. Even Barack Obama publicly opposed gay marriage when he was elected president.
Today’s “woke” position on transgender issues is such that if you don’t believe people can change genders and you don’t think men should be allowed to use girls’ bathrooms, or that that shouldn’t play on girls’ sports teams, then you are a bigot. Such attitudes would have been unfathomable a mere fifteen years ago. Now, they’re embraced by the radical left full throttle, and taxpayer-funded transition surgeries are a thing.
At this rate of “evolution” of attitudes, today’s “woke” Democrats will be bigots by the standards of 20 years from now, as behaviors universally condemned today (and don’t predict which) will be the next frontier of the civil rights movement.
But, if Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of American slaves doesn’t exempt him from being called racist because he had attitudes toward race that were overwhelmingly common in his time (even among those who opposed slavery) then neither should Joe Biden, who has made several racist comments over the years, and whose past positions on race issues were bad enough that Kamala Harris all but called him a racist during the 2020 primaries. Yet, Lincoln is a new target of cancel culture, while Joe Biden got 80 million votes in November? Figure that one out.
Cancel culture is destroying our history, our present, and it will destroy our future. We must stop judging the leaders of the past based on the attitudes of the present. They’ll never measure, so let’s stop the madness now.
Matt Margolis is the author of Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter, Gab, Facebook, MeWe, Heroes, Rumble, and CloutHub.