Adapted from the Twitter feed. Saturday, December 3, 2016.
Diorama at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum depicting Abraham Lincoln at work in his law office in Springfield while his sons Willie and Tad play, to the consternation of Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon. Photo copyright Gleaves Whitney, courtesy of Grand Valley State University.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. You can, however, always count on people fooling themselves. As I did me.
Young Ken Mannion and I have been listening to The Case of Abraham Lincoln by Julie M. Fenster. It’s an entertaining, sly, and mildly revisionist and subversive portrait of Lincoln in the 1850s as he was helping to build the Republican Party and beginning to develop the national reputation that would lead to his becoming President. Fenster builds her story around a sensational murder case that Lincoln was eventually drawn into as a lawyer for the defendant, a woman named Jane Anderson, the younger wife of a blacksmith, who was on trial for helping her even younger supposed lover murder her husband. What’s subversive is that while drawing a warm and affectionate picture of Lincoln as a husband, father, neighbor, and colleague, Fenster shows how he could be vain, egocentric, ambitious, and self-serving, duplicitous, and hypocritical in advancing his ambitions. In short, he was a fairly typical politician.
He even held public and private positions. For example, he despised the Know-Nothings for their anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry, but they were anti-slavery and he needed them to join the Republicans to defeat the Democrats and so he kept his contempt to himself and courted their votes.
Anyway, it’s a very good book but something dawned on me as we were listening to it on our drive over here to B&N just now.
Books like this are why I was sure HRC'd win.
Since the campaign began in earnest back in January, I've been reading on and off about Lincoln, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, and that reading convinced me that HRC was the only one in the race who measured up to that lot in terms of temperament, intelligence, experience, political savvy, and in having a sense of what the job entails. In short, she was the only president in the race.
And I assumed that was obvious to most people.
And I assumed that that's what most people wanted a presidential candidate to be. You know, someone actually like a president.
As it turned out, that is what most voters wanted. It's there were too many who didn't or who didn't see her and presidents the way I did.
What I forgot to consider was that people tend to see what they want to see and I'm a people.
I fell victim to my own confirmation bias. I saw what I wanted to see. A population of voters who thought about presidents the way I thought about presidents.
I was also a victim of what I've called "Smarty-Pants Bias." Letting what I'm currently reading over-determine my thinking.
I also didn't take into account how important it was that Trump is clearly not "presidential" in the sense HRC is. A big part of his appeal was (and is) that he doesn't act like a president. His voters don't want someone who's really like a president.
Of course a lot of them want someone who is like a boss. That is a dictator.
Then there are those who don't want someone like a president because they don't like people who are like presidents.
People like presidents---very smart, hardworking, disciplined, highly competent, responsible---remind us that we aren't people like that. We aren't that smart, aren't that disciplined, aren't that hard-working. We aren't that responsible.
And if on top of all that they happen to be good we really don't like them.
Even if they don't intend it, the very fact of who and what they are makes us feel our own mediocrity.
And reminds us that it's really not true that anyone can grow up to be President.
I knew this. I knew Trump had people convinced both that he would be "different" and that he was just a regular guy like them.
I didn't believe that enough people would despise HRC precisely because she was the most traditionally like a president.
But finally what I failed to take into account was how many people would fool themselves. They saw what they wanted to see just as I had.
And what they wanted to see when they looked at Trump was someone not at all like Trump nor like FDR, TR, Harry Truman, or Abe Lincoln.
They wanted to see what we all want to see when we look for a President.
An idealized version of ourselves.