Differ We Must
Also, buy this book.
The night before publication included an event at the Greene Space, a performance venue in Manhattan. WNYC’s Michael Hill interviewed me before an audience that included a number of friends from over the years. The next morning I got to walk over to 30 Rock for an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. It was exciting to see the old neon signs at dawn. Having once been a broke young person walking around New York hoping for an opportunity, I never take lightly the privilege of getting one. I hope to do something that is worthy of that opportunity, because I believe in the book.
Interviewers reasonably ask why the world needs another a book about Lincoln. One reason is the time we are living in. Some people are feeling grim! Shortly before I was summoned onto the MSNBC set, Mika Brzezinski responded to a news story by exclaiming on camera, “God help us.”
Lincoln has advice for our time, if we understand him properly. Many of us have come to see him as a saint, a miraculous figure who rose from nowhere, became president almost by chance, and somehow saved the Union. This is a great story, but not necessarily inspiring, because if we drew any lesson from it, that lesson could only be, “Hope for another miracle.”
The Lincoln I came to know through my research did not wait. He was less a saint than a politician, who hustled for votes and made hard moral choices in his bid to build coalitions. He thought deeply about other people, and what their interests were. He believed that people acted out of self-interest—a grim thought, but one he tried to turn to his advantage by harnessing their self-interest to a larger cause.
The Greene Space.
Before his presidency he took part in building a coalition against slavery. During the war he held together a coalition that preserved the country and struck a death blow at slavery. He did this, in part, by dealing with people who disagreed with him—not always succeeding, but never giving up.
In a democracy, we do not need everyone to agree. And that’s good! We do need a majority who are in favor of the basic enterprise of this republic. This reality informed Lincoln’s political life, and also informed my exploration of it.
For those who’ve already picked up the book, thank you. For those considering, you may find it in your local bookstore or at either of these links.
Whether or not you buy the book on our divided past, thank you for reading this Substack – my exploration of our disorderly present. I’ll keep writing it.