Early in the morning of April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln breathed his last. The night before, he and his wife had gone to see a play—a comedy. One of the last men to talk to him before he left for the theater said it seemed the cares of the previous four years were melting away. The Confederacy was all but defeated, and the nation seemed to be on its way to a prosperous, inclusive new future.
The bullet that killed Lincoln had been delivered by John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor poisoned by the belief that Lincoln’s use of the federal government to end human enslavement as a central part of the nation’s economy was tyranny.Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, April 15, 2022
Democracy remains under attack today. As Dr. Richardson notes in her letter, the fear of democracy has brought us to the edge of losing our government. We learned yesterday in an exclusive story on CNN about 100 text messages between Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Representative Chip Roy of Texas, and Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. The messages were obtained by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
These text messages show elected members of our government eager to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election in which a national majority of 7 million people had chosen Democrat Joe Biden as president.
On the day I cast my ballot in that 2020 election, I wrote about Senator Lee’s fear of democracy in a long post entitled History tells us democracy is the objective. It was prompted by this quote from Senator Lee:
Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.Utah Senator Mike Lee *
Little did I know back in October of 2020 what was still to come.
In 1990, on the album Norman Blake & Tony Rice 2, Norman sang one of his songs, a mournful ballad entitled Lincoln’s Funeral Train (The Sad Journey to Springfield). In 2017, Greg Graffin — punk rocker, evolutionary biologist, and lead singer for the band Bad Religion — released a powerful cover of Blake’s tune on his solo album Millport with images of what we lost and what was at stake in the fight to save democracy.
The entire song is powerful, but Blake’s refrain nails the essence of the fight against modernity and democracy by traitors to our country.
With the portrait of a martyred man
Shot down by a traitor
Now toll the bell and bid farewell
To the great emancipator
I have written a great deal about the threat to democracy in our times. Here are links to some of those posts:
- History tells us democracy is the objective (2020)
- The abandonment of democracy (2020)
- Democracy is never permanent…and the work to keep it never ends (2020)
- Defining our democracy (2020)
More to come…
*Senator Lee was also recently in the news for mansplaining the constitution to Judge (soon to be Justice) Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court. Spoiler alert: he was wrong.
Image: Lincoln’s Funeral Train in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Credit: the University of Illinois collection.