When The New York Times printed a wildly false headline asserting that President Trump was possibly a Russian agent, I was furious. However, I was also reminded of another time in our nation’s history in which the press was this hostile to the American President.
I called President Trump and told him no president since Abraham Lincoln had faced the kind of unending bias and hostility that he is living through.
Indeed, the Media Research Center reported for both 2017 and 2018 that the mainstream evening TV media had been at least 90 percent anti-Trump in its reporting. This relentless hostility parallels what President Lincoln had to endure in the media.
As I wrote in my #1 New York Times best seller Understanding Trump, many news outlets opposed Lincoln from the beginning – much like President Trump.
Upon Lincoln’s election, the Memphis Daily Appeal wrote on November 13, 1860:
“Within 90 days from the time Lincoln is inaugurated, the Republican Party will be utterly ruined and destroyed. His path is environed with so many difficulties, that even if he had the ability of Jefferson and the energy of Jackson, he would fail, but he is a weak and inexperienced man, and his administration will be doomed from the commencement. If he takes that radical section of the Republican Party, the conservative wing of it will cut loose and repudiate him. If, on the other hand, he courts the conservatives and pursues a moderate conciliatory policy, the radicals will make open war upon his administration.”
These criticisms of Lincoln were not confined to the South.
In his book 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, author Charles Bracelen Flood noted that The New York Herald once wrote that “his election was a rash experiment, his administration is a deplorable failure.” The northern paper’s editors also said, “As President of the United States he must have enough sense to see and acknowledge he has been an egregious failure. One thing must be self-evident to him, and that is that under no circumstances can he hope to be the next President of the United States… [He should] retire from the position to which, in an evil hour, he was exalted.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
Just as President Trump rails against “fake news,” President Lincoln felt that a significant front in his war to preserve the Union was against the news media. This made Lincoln highly critical and skeptical of media.
According to Noah Brooks, a reporter who had regular access to Lincoln, President Lincoln often said, "the worst feature about newspapers was that they were so sure to be 'ahead of the hounds,' outrunning events, and exciting expectations which were sure to be disappointed."
Lincoln, who was embroiled in a civil war in which the very survival of the country was at stake, was also much tougher and more aggressive with the media than anyone could imagine in the modern era. This included shutting down newspapers and imprisoning journalists who supported secession from the Union.
But the hostility toward Lincoln within the Washington establishment and the political elite was just as ferocious.
Edward Everett, the famous orator who spoke for hours at Gettysburg while Lincoln gave a very brief but historically and morally a much more powerful speech, wrote in his diary that Lincoln was, “evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the crisis."
According to George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer, Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.”
Even the general who Lincoln chose to lead the Union Army, George McClellan, dismissed President Lincoln as a frontier hack, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla.”
Even among his fellow Republicans, Lincoln encountered fierce attacks.
Republican William M. Dickson of Ohio wrote in 1861 that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity … and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.”
You decide whether attacks on President Trump’s hair or attacks on Lincoln’s intelligence are more demeaning.
President Lincoln was a very different man facing a radically more dangerous situation than President Trump. Yet each president represents a direct threat to a national establishment by an outsider.
The next time you hear a nasty attack on President Trump, consider what people wrote and said about President Lincoln.
There is a lot more similarity between the Lincoln crisis of the Union and the Trump crisis of the Establishment than most people will want to even consider.