People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”
— Donald Trump
A hundred and fifty years ago, a war was fought for the soul of this nation. On one side was the belief that this country should be a place where all people are free. On the other was the belief that one man should be able to own another. That is why the Civil War was fought, Mr. President. It is simple to understand, I promise you. Really, it is.
Of course, many from the South, your Attorney General being one, will tell you that the Civil War was a war of aggression, that it was about state’s rights vs. the tyranny of the federal government, and all that. So I can see why you might be confused, and wonder if maybe we could have just made a deal. I mean, for a deal maker such as yourself, anything is possible, right?
But here is the thing. There was a deal on the table: end slavery. That was it. That was the deal. End the practice of treating people like chattel. The South could have agreed to this and the war could have been averted. But instead, the South got up from the table and went home. No deal. Slavery was so important to the southern economy that the South would rather have created its own slave nation than give it up. And the rest, as they say, is history. You should read it sometime. Get a picture book if the words are too hard. Have Ivanka read it to you as she’s tucking you into bed. It’s important.
But what about a compromise, you say? Isn’t that the art of the deal? Come back with a counter offer until both sides reach an agreement? But what would have been agreeable in this case? The deal was no slavery. Not some slavery. No slavery. There is no possible compromise in a situation like that, unless you think that some slavery is acceptable. Is that what you think, Mr. President? That some slavery would have been acceptable to avert a war?
Make no mistake, even Abraham Lincoln struggled with this question, and wondered if perhaps preserving the Union at all costs was more important. But as this excerpt from a letter to his friend Joshua Speed makes clear, he believed in something more:
As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
We already know what you believe, Mr. President. We already know how you read it. There is little doubt in your interpretation that all men are not created equal. That, indeed, all men are created equal except. We hear about it whenever you give a speech to your supporters. Make America great again for everyone except. The rules should apply equally to all except. We welcome everyone to this country except. Every citizen should vote except. And so on.
Wars are fought for many reasons, and one reason is when except is not an option. The Civil War was fought because “all men are created equal except” was not an option. We continue to fight that battle as you aggressively seek to eradicate the accomplishments of our first black president. Because, as we know, in your world anyone can grow up to be president except. But that is not an option. It was never an option. It will never be an option. Some things are worth fighting for, Mr President. Some things are worth going to war over, even dying over. The soul of this country is one of them. There is no deal that can erase that, whether you understand it or not.