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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

VITA HUSET | Presidentens centrala roll i USA är antagligen en anledningen till den personkult som omger de stora presidenterna.

Populär Historia nr 2 2000

Göran Rystad, professor i historia, skrev 2000 i Populär Historia:

George Washington har inte endast fått ge namn åt unionens huvudstad utan också åt otaliga andra städer och samhällen, åt en delstat och åt 31 counties. Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson och Andrew Jackson har fått ge namn åt delstatshuvudstäder (Nebraska, Missouri och Mississippi) och en mängd counties och samhällen. Washingtons födelsedag är helgdag i 48 delstater och ytterligare fem presidenters födelsedagar är helgdag i en eller flera delstater. Universitet, berg och floder har fått namn efter presidenter.

Tio-i-topp-listor är populära i USA, också när det gäller presidenter. Ända sedan 1920-talet har det förekommit omröstningar i syfte att upprätta rankinglistor från ”bäst” till ”sämst”. I den första, 1921, som genomfördes med en panel bestående av hundra prominenta amerikaner – guvernörer, domare, vetenskapsmän och kyrkoledare – kom Lincoln klar etta med Washington som lika klar tvåa. Topplaceringarna har därefter nästan ständigt innehafts av Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson och ett varierande fjärde namn, vanligen Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt eller Harry Truman. I botten har i regel Warren Harding och Andrew Johnson, ibland Ulysses S Grant, legat. På 1980-talet hamnade även Richard Nixon i denna skara.

Tolv presidenter har sina statyer i New Yorks kända Hall of Fame (av kritiker ibland kallat Hollow Fame – hollow betyder ungefär ”ihålig, tom”). Och berömda är de jättelika över tjugo meter höga porträtten av presidenterna Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson och Theodore Roosevelt, som huggits in i granitklippan i Mount Rushmore i Black Hills, South Dakota.

Dessa fyra är alla med i första ledet bland USA:s presidenter. Två tillhörde unionens founding fathers, en var ”martyrpresidenten” som satt i Vita huset under inbördeskriget, det mest traumatiska skedet i landets historia, och den fjärde var en drivande kraft när USA trädde fram som stormaktsaktör på den internationella arenan.

George Washington, den förmögne plantageägaren från Mount Vernon i Virginia, hade gjort en lysande insats som överbefälhavare för den kontinentala amerikanska armén i kampen mot engelsmännen. Hans anseende berodde inte endast på hans duglighet och ledaregenskaper utan också på hans karaktär; han var lugn, omdömesgill, moraliskt högtstående. Washington var ordförande i det konvent som utarbetade konstitutionen och valdes 1789 av en enhällig valförsamling till unionens förste president. Under sina två presidentperioder kom han att i många avseenden sätta sin prägel på ämbetet för framtiden. Hans bestående inflytande kom också att gälla utrikespolitiken. I sitt berömda avskedstal, som ofta skulle komma att åberopas, varnade han för allianser som medförde förpliktelser. Det skulle i själva verket dröja ända till tillkomsten av Nato 1949 innan USA gick in i ett avtal som medförde att landet kunde tvingas att agera på grund av ett alliansåtagande, inte efter ett eget beslut.

Tidskriftsomslag: Populär Historia nr 2, 2000.

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FILM | Att försöka utläsa sina egna favoritbudskap i populära filmer är alltid lockande. Speciellt om man har en politisk agenda.

Steven Spielberg Lincoln - poster

I USA har mycket handlat om Steven Spielbergs film Lincoln. I Sverige är det Kristina Lindström och Maud Nycanders dokumentär om Palme som fått politiska redaktörer och kritiker att vässa pennorna.

De översvallande recensionerna för filmerna gör det intressant att se vilka godbitar skribenterna har plockat fram för att kunna användas i den dagaktuella debatten.

Karin Petersson i Aftonbladet citerade t.ex. Anna Lindh:

Olof Palme visade att politiken ska vägledas av idéer, moral och känsla. Att politik är så mycket mer än teknik och administration.

Peter Akinder i Östra Småland hade ett liknande nostalgiskt resonemang (även om han inte vill kännas vid att han är just nostalgisk):

[D]et skulle inte skada om svensk politik mera präglades av den attityd och ideologiska spänst som [Olof Palme] representerade, för att skapa engagemang kring politiken som demokratins kraft att förändra. 

Frank Rich, tidskriften New York, har tittat lite på hur det politiska etablissemanget i Washington valde att tolka budskapet i Lincoln. Och i bara farten placera sig själva bland änglarna.

The rousing reception that has greeted Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in Establishment Washington—an enclave not generally known for its cinema connoisseurship—tells another story, about the state of play of domestic politics in the Obama years. Tony Kushner’s screenplay and Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance depict a president who, during the movie’s monthlong time frame of January 1865, is unyielding in his zeal to win ratification of the constitutional amendment outlawing slavery. Yet the Washington punditocracy’s praise distorts Lincoln, selling short the movie and its hero to draw another moral entirely: The only way good can happen in the nation’s capital is if you strike a bipartisan compromise. This supercilious veneration of bipartisanship is the Beltway Kool-Aid that Obama drank during his first term, much to his own grief, given that the Party of No was abstaining from it altogether. Those in Washington who are now repackaging it under the brand of Lincoln are the same claque that tirelessly preaches that the ­after-hours nightcaps shared by Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, or commissions like Simpson-Bowles, are the paradigms for getting things done.

The Beltway cheerleading for Lincoln as a parable of bipartisanship makes much of the fact that Obama screened it at the White House for a small invited group of congressional leaders.

[…]

The film demonstrates “the nobility of politics” (in David Brooks’s phrase) by depicting a president who would strike any bargain he could, however ugly, to snare the votes he needed to free the slaves. Lincoln’s political dealmaking with a deadlocked, lame-duck House just after his reelection is, ipso facto, the Ur-text of Obama’s push to make a deal with Congress in the postelection “fiscal cliff” standoff of 2012.

Leaving aside the moral obtuseness of equating the imperative of abolishing slavery in the nineteenth century with reducing budget deficits in our own, there are other fallacies in this supposed historical parallel. If any of today’s apostles of bipartisan compromise had bothered to read the five pages of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals that are the springboard for Kushner’s screenplay, they would have learned that Lincoln not for one second compromised his stand on the abolition of slavery while rounding up congressional votes for the Thirteenth Amendment. (He doesn’t in the film either.) Lincoln’s compromises were not of principle but of process. He secured votes with the mercenary favors catalogued by Goodwin—“plum assignments, pardons, campaign contributions, and government jobs for relatives and friends of faithful members.” Few, if any, of these bargaining chips are available to Obama or any modern president who doesn’t want to risk impeachment.

[…]

The one significant ideological compromise in the movie is that made by the Radical Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), who tables his insistence on full equality for African-Americans to hasten the slavery-ending amendment’s passage.

There are no figures like Stevens willing to cut deals in the radical GOP House caucus of today. The good news about the newly rebooted Obama, as seen both in his tough dealings with the lame-duck Congress and his second inaugural address, is that he recognizes this reality. He at last seems to have learned his lesson about the futility of trying to broker a serious compromise with his current Republican adversaries. He held to his stated principles in both the “fiscal cliff” and debt-ceiling fights, and both times the GOP backed down. Nor is he deluding himself that his congressional opponents might embrace flexibility and compromise if they saw ­Lincoln—not least because he couldn’t even corral them to see the movie in his presence. The president did invite Mitch ­McConnell and John Boehner to his White House screening, and both said no.

Läs mer: Abraham Lincolns betydelse för Barack Obama.

Bild: Den amerikanska affischen till filmen Lincoln.

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SJUKDOM | Det är ingen hemlighet att Winston Churchill led av återkommande perioder av depression. Han t.o.m. döpte dem till ”The Black Dog”.

History Today, februari 2013

Men Churchill är naturligtvis inte den enda personen i historien med någon form av psykisk ohälsa. Andra berömdheter är Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin och Abraham Lincoln.

Frågan är om det idag skulle vara möjligt för någon att bli vald till president eller regeringschef om han eller hon led av någon forma av psykisk ohälsa, oavsett hur lindrigt. 

Ett avslöjande skulle i USA genast sätta igång diskussioner om lämpligheten av att t.ex. ansvara för USA:s kärvapensystem.

Men som Jerome Carson och Elizabeth Wakely skriver i History Today är det inte bara elände:

[I]t may also be that, despite some hindrances and setbacks, the mental suffering experienced by Lincoln, Darwin, Nightingale and Churchill actually facilitated and contributed to many of their successes and achievements. Such a theory of a creative malady is well known in its application to those in the creative arts but less so for those in other disciplines and in public life. At the outset it is important to bear in mind the caveat expressed by the psychiatrist Anthony Storr: ‘In a subject in which so much is controversial, it behoves the psychiatrist and the historian to be modest in their claims to psychological understanding.’

In a conversation with his personal physician, Lord Moran, during the war years, Churchill commented:

Black depression settled on me … I didn’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train was passing through … I don’t like to stand by the edge of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything.

Lord Moran in turn informed Churchill:

The Black Dog business you get from your forebears. You have fought against it all your life … You always avoid anything that is depressing.

Rather like Lincoln, Churchill was also quite successful in battling his depression episodes. His coping strategies included cerebral and artistic pursuits, such as writing and painting, and more physical ones, such as bricklaying, along with over-indulgence in food, alcohol and cigars.

While there is little disagreement that Churchill suffered from depression, there is more dispute over whether he may have had bipolar disorder.

[…]

Resentment of authority and difficulty in dealing with hostility or animosity often leads depressives to seek out opponents in the external world and Hitler was the man upon whom Churchill could release his aggression. He had, too, an unwavering belief in his own invincibility and his own destiny:

This cannot be accident, it must be design. I was kept for this job.

This is perhaps a bipolar blurring of the line between fantasy and reality. As Lord Moran said:

It was the inner world of make-believe in which Winston found reality.

When Churchill told Lady Violet Bonham Carter, ‘We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm’, he encapsulated self-abasement and self-glorification in a single phrase.

Seemingly never given to introspection, it may also be that Churchill’s own experience of depression enabled him to understand and sympathise with the deprivation and hardships the people suffered during the war years. His radio broadcasts to he nation certainly appear, on the whole, to have given hope and the will to endure. However Anthony Storr is convinced that it was manic aspects of Churchill’s mental illness that were critical to his success:

Had Churchill been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgement might well have concluded we were finished.

Bild: Tidskriftsomslaget är History Today, februari 2013. Fotot på Churchill är taget av den berömda fotografen Margaret Bourke-White.

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FILM | Kent Jones, deputy editorFilm Comment, ser visa likheter mellan Abraham Lincoln och Barack Obama i skenet av filmen ”Lincoln”.

Film Comment nr 1 2013

I senaste numret av tidskriften skriver Jones bl.a. följande:

The gray cloud of national petulance has had no small effect on Barack Obama, from whom hordes of voters turned away the minute they realized that he wasn’t exactly what they wanted, without one thought about the possible consequences of abandoning a literate, gracious, charismatically brilliant democratic president in midstream. It has been suggested in some quarters that Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s film might offer a parallel or two with Obama’s presidency. I’ll say. When was the last time you saw a movie in which the villain was a fanatical, obstructionist block of Congress, and the hero’s principal course of action was a deft manipulation of political passions in order to realize a sweeping goal? On a broader level, the election of an African-American president marks our arrival at the final but still perilous stretch of the national voyage charted by the abolitionists and launched by Lincoln.

Bild: Tidskriftsomslaget är Fim Comment, vol 49/nr 1, 2013.

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LEDARSKAP | President Abraham Lincolns syn på demokratiska val påverkades av hans ledarskapsstil. Men vad för typ av ledare var han?

Disunion, en blogg på The New York Times om USA under inbördeskriget, skriver professor Steven B. Smith:

To understand Lincoln’s leadership properly, one must understand it as a feature of constitutional government.

[…]

Constitutions are devices for controlling the uses of power. Governing in a constitutional manner meansFlygblad med republikanernas valsedel i USA inför valet 1860 (Kentucky Historical Society Collections) governing with respect to forms by which is meant certain formal procedures (rule of law, due process, trial by jury). In some respects constitutional government cares more about the forms than about the outcomes. What is important is that certain formal procedures be followed, and following these procedures confers legitimacy on the outcome.

The very term — constitutional leadership — involves a paradox. Leadership involves boldness, decisiveness and action, even a willingness to go it alone; constitutions work in the opposite direction, imposing forms and rules, checks on power and limits on executive initiative. How can one both lead and accept the limitations of constitutional restraint?

[…]

A […] case of Lincoln’s exercise of constitutional restraint concerned the principle of election. His rejection of the secessionist thesis was that it made the operation of free government impossible. If a minority could secede every time it disapproved of the outcome of the vote of the majority, the result would be a swift descent into anarchy. To be sure, the vote of the majority does not confer an absolute power to do what it wanted. But the principle of regular election, Lincoln believed, could provide a check on what popular majorities would be prepared to do. In any case, to give to the minority a permanent veto over the majority was the negation of self-government. “A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people,” Lincoln told his audience in the First Inaugural Address

[…]

To his infinite credit, Lincoln realized that free elections should not, even in principle, be sacrificed even if the cost might be the end of constitutional government. For constitutional leadership, the ends do not justify the means. Constitutional leadership is necessarily limited or bounded leadership. It is in this possibility of a leader operating within the limits of constitutional restraint that the hope of our republic rests.

Bild: Flygblad med republikanernas valsedel inför valet 1860 (Kentucky Historical Society Collections).

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Abraham Lincoln...not

För alla som växt upp med den svenska skolans historieundervisning kan det kanske vara av vikt att påtala att, nej, detta är inget genuint foto av Abraham Lincoln och, nej, honest Abe ägde aldrig en ghettoblaster.

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HISTORIA | I en bearbetad text från Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincon and America’s Most Perilous Year finns en intressant beskrivning av Lincoln.

Harper's Weekly, 27 april 1861

Författaren David Von Drehle skriver i Time:

Of all the words a proud, ambitious man might use to describe himself, perhaps only Abraham Lincoln would choose strange. Yet there it is. In one of his earliest wisps of autobiography, Lincoln wrote that he was “a strange, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy” when he emerged from the backwoods in his early 20s to make his way in the world. Editors of Lincoln’s Collected Works found the word so perplexing that they added an r to transform him into a mere stranger. But the late David Herbert Donald, one of Lincoln’s most admired biographers, astutely recognized that the man meant what he said.

Strange can mean odd or quirky, and Lincoln was certainly that. His foes nicknamed him the Gorilla, which captures his long-armed, shambling animal strength. His hands and feet were enormous, and his brow was simian. Yet when he spoke, a high and reedy voice twanged forth incongruously. At one moment, he might be braying loudly over one of his own salty jokes, and at the next, lost in catatonic silence.

Strange can also mean unfamiliar, alien. This too is Lincoln, who never quite fit in. The youthful Lincoln was a rawboned genius on an uncomprehending frontier. As President, he was a self-taught rustic surrounded by the polished burghers of Eastern society. Magnetic, keenly sensitive, often able to understand others better than they understood themselves, Lincoln was nevertheless profoundly isolated. Perhaps the early deaths of his mother and sister steeped him in sorrow so thoroughly that he learned to prefer loneliness to intimacy. He “never had a confidant,” his law partner William Herndon wrote. “He was the most reticent and mostly secretive man that ever existed.”

Despite interviewing dozens of Lincoln’s associates in the months after his death, J.G. Holland, an early biographer, found himself stumped. “There are not two who agree in their estimate of him,” he wrote. One would say “he was a very ambitious man”; another would assert “that he was without a particle of ambition.” People said that “he was one of the saddest men that ever lived, and that he was one of the jolliest men that ever lived … that he was a man of indomitable will, and that he was a man almost without a will; that he was a tyrant, and that he was the softest-hearted, most brotherly man that ever lived.” The real Lincoln, Holland concluded, was the sum of his contradictions.

Bild: En sida ur Harper’s Weekly den 27 april 1861. Enligt uppgift står det i artikeln att bilden på Lincoln är första officiella porträttet efter att han lagt sig till med skägg.

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