If one of the two presidential candidates on the debate stage Thursday night was like Abraham Lincoln, it wasn’t the Republican.
Lincoln had a deep abhorrence to hurting others, as Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her masterful biography “Team of Rivals.” This was born of Lincoln’s character and his empathy, which provides a model to which U.S. citizens should look in the 2020 presidential election.
“He possessed extraordinary empathy — the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires,” Goodwin writes in the 2005 book. Indeed, Lincoln’s tenderheartedness left him open to melancholy but also endowed him with the ability to lead others.
As you consider for whom you will vote for president, I encourage you to summon the empathy of a Lincoln. Put yourself in the shoes of someone with a perspective and background that might be different from your own.
For example, if I were voting based on my experience living in Utah and interacting with a federal government that thinks it knows better than the state of Utah and overreaches to declare 1.3 million acres for Bears Ears National Monument, I might vote for the Republican candidate who appropriately reduced its size to 201,876 acres.
If I were voting solely based upon which candidate promises to do more to support the religious freedom in which I believe deeply, I might be tempted to vote Republican.
But how should I vote if my ancestors came to America as refugees fleeing violence and political instability? The number of refugees resettled in America has dropped from 89,500 in 2016 to 6,600 in 2020.
Under our current president, America has retreated from being “the shining city upon a hill” of which President Ronald Reagan spoke. Through restrictions on refugees and on legal immigration, through barbaric family separations at the border and the throttling of asylum claims, the Trump administration treats migrant detainees worse than it does prisoners of war.
Of, if I were a Black American, how would I feel in the presence of our current president? Of all the many appeals court judges he has appointed, not one is Black. He has encouraged and refused to denounce the most extreme white nationalist groups. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 preserves the ability of Blacks to vote, but Trump promises a retreat to a racially divided America, with white supporters watching over voting in mostly Black areas.
In 2016, I could not support either presidential campaign of the two major parties because neither possessed the character necessary to lead our nation.
But 2020 is different. I have no connection to any political campaign this year. This year only one of the two major party candidates — Joe Biden — speaks with civility and will act with empathy for and understanding of others.
As Biden said in his Democratic Party acceptance speech, “As God’s children, each of us have a purpose in our lives.” Can you imagine our current president saying this?
Central to Abraham Lincoln’s success as a political leader was his ability to understand and speak to those different from him.
Donald Trump approaches politics as being something of “style and confidence and flair,” as he said in his Republican Party acceptance speech. You may think that you are part of his political coalition when he praised “these pioneers” who “picked up their Bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into their covered wagons and set out West for the next adventure.”
But does the current president speak for anyone outside of his narrow white and religious political base? His actions and words show that he lacks concern for others, and acts against the public interest of Americans as a whole.
“We can choose a path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, more divided, a path of shadow and suspicion,” Joe Biden said in his acceptance speech. “Or we can choose a different path, and together take this chance to heal, to reform, to unite.”
Will you vote as a partisan or one with a favored interest? Look outside of yourself in your voting as in your everyday life and support a candidate whom you can see others supporting, too.
Drew Clark is a former opinion editor of the Deseret News. An attorney licensed in Utah and Illinois, he also runs Broadband Breakfast, a Washington-based media company focused on politics and technology. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.