Library of Congress



Where are America’s Better Angels?

As Independence Day approaches, amid all the hype and hoopla and showy patriotism, it might be well to remember the famous words of President Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

But the man who became The Great Emancipator was wrong then. Our “better angels” were a no show and more than 600,000 died in the bloody Civil War that followed hard on the heels of his address. They were also absent after that war when the slaves Lincoln and the Union Army emancipated were quickly returned to a wretched condition not far from slavery. A condition that, 153 years later, they have yet to escape from completely.

And today, when the Great Emancipator has been supplanted by The Great Divider, can any better angels be found to battle a Bully President who neatly fits the Biblical description of The Antichrist? Dust off your Old Testaments, Evangelicals!

Perhaps America never has had any better angels. I hate to think that is the case. Surely, we have done many good things during our 242 years of existence. We have been divided before and overcome those divisions. We have made the world a better place. Not always, but often enough. We can do good again, but we’ll need “the better angels of our nature” to get the job done. Where can we find them? Not in the White House. Nothing there but a braying witless “reality TV” game show host and his current crop of boot-licking sycophants. The Congress? Never has that sorry body more clearly fit Mark Twain’s definition of it as “America’s only native criminal class” than it does now. Not only is it criminal but it seems to glory in its own divisions.

Where are our Lincolns? Only the dying John McCain makes the cut. The boldly outspoken Jeff Flake talks the talk but doesn’t vote the vote as he meekly bails out of the Senate. Mitch McConnell absorbs some of the foulest abuse our gutter-mouth President can dish out and throws his arms around him in a public exhibition of sniveling cowardice that’s truly disgusting. But Mitt Romney takes the cake. His high moral tone was on display during the Presidential Primary season of 2016, but now he adores Trump. Can’t get enough of him. Thinks he should be re-elected in 2020…unless Mitt’s fellow high-minded Republicans decide that he might be a better choice. I can’t decide if Mitt should be forced to wear a big red “H” on his chest for “Hypocrite” or become this year’s Mendacity Poster Boy.

If there are to be any better angels we’re gonna’ have to do it ourselves. Time to get our hands off our piously patriotic hearts and start doing some heavy lifting. Time to get out and demonstrate and organize and vote and get others to vote. Time to let our full-throated voices be heard. No use waiting for the Congress or the Courts or the Professional Politicians to do it for us. We may none of us be Lincolns. We may not be Angels. But, as Honest Abe said in his speech, what is required is that we summon up “the better angels of our nature.” It won’t be easy. Our divisions are deep and growing deeper each day. It may take years. But perhaps. Some day. We may “yet swell the chorus of the union” in this fair, but troubled, land.