Take Him Seriously, Not Literally

He was too old to cry, Abraham Lincoln replied when asked how he was holding up after losing an election — but it hurt too much to laugh.

Lincoln would have understood the disappointment — and the concern –felt by many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters in the wake of the presidential election.

But we Americans have been, quite literally, at each other’s throats much worse than we are now.

That is not to say this election has not stirred deep emotions. It is not to argue there are not real, substantive differences of opinion.

It most certainly is not to minimize the concerns many Americans, both liberal and conservative, have about the future.

But let’s pull back from the headlines and sound bites of the past several months and think about what the future really holds.

A very perceptive view came from radio personality Glenn Beck, I’m told. After the election, he reportedly suggested the big story was that neither the Republican nor the Democrat establishments took Donald Trump seriously, but they did take him literally. In other words, they took him at his word on policy statements such as that on “the wall,” but didn’t think he could win.

Meanwhile, a vast formerly inactive majority of Americans took Trump very seriously — but not literally.

He spoke for them, but in many cases, symbolically rather than literally. There will be some sort of “wall” against illegal immigration, but it may not be entirely a physical one.

Much of what “scares” people about Trump may have been campaign rhetoric to be tempered and molded to circumstances, not necessarily put literally into practice. The same would have been true had Clinton won, by the way.

Well, critics may ask, why didn’t Trump tone his rhetoric down on the campaign trail?

For the same reason Clinton didn’t. What both had been saying was working for them. Win the election first, explain mellower, more realistic policies later.

So let’s wait to see how Trump moves forward before we panic — about anything.

A bit more history: The rivalry between Trump and Clinton is mild compared to the split between Lincoln and Democrat Stephen Douglas. Before Lincoln beat him in the presidential election of 1860, they had fought politically for many years. They even competed briefly for the hand of the woman who became Mary Lincoln.

Their differences in 1860 make any disputes we have today look like mild spats.

After Lincoln trounced him for president, Douglas spent the remainder of his life traveling the country, frantically urging divided Americans to support his rival. He died in June 1861 — his illness aggravated by his attempt to reconcile the nation.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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