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In a divided America, Lincoln’s words of healing ring true

Abraham Lincoln worked to rebuild a fractured nation ‘with malice toward none; with charity for all.’

The Lincoln Memorial is seen in this general view, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Mark Tenally, Associated Press

For all of us who couldn’t wait to get 2020 behind us, the events of last Wednesday served as an ominous foreshadowing that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Polling that I conducted in the days following the assault on the U.S. Capitol found that 59% of voters believe those who occupied that historic building should be considered terrorists. Just 27% disagreed. Not only that, 58% believe the president of the United States played a significant role in encouraging the terrorists.

On the brighter side, however, 60% recognize that the actions of a small number of troublemakers and racists do not reflect the views of most Trump voters. They see most Trump voters as good people disappointed by the election results. But, importantly, they want any questions they might have addressed in a peaceful and appropriate manner.

But the deep and growing divide in our nation today was highlighted by a polling question I never expected to ask: Forty-three percent of voters believe that President Donald Trump should be arrested after he leaves office. A nearly identical number — 44% — disagree. Thirteen percent (13%) are not sure.

Naturally, many of these divides fall along partisan lines. Republicans tend to reject the idea of arresting the president while Democrats tend to support it. Most of those Democrats have thought the president should be arrested ever since he won the 2016 election, but the numbers increased last week.

The divides are much deeper than mere political differences. They infect every area of our national and cultural life including communities of faith. Forty-eight percent of Bible believing Christians think the president played a significant role in encouraging those who occupied the Capitol. Forty percent do not.

These differences brought to mind the words from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. He delivered that address at one of the few times in American history that our nation was more divided than it is today. As the Civil War was winding down, the nation’s 16th president noted that both sides in the conflict “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other.”

Although the war was winding down, the bitterness and anger remained. Just six weeks later, Lincoln himself was assassinated. But, that did not end the hatred. In many ways, we are still dealing with the aftermath of that war in the 21st century.

Then, as now, each side was convinced of their own righteousness and blamed the other for inciting the conflict. But Lincoln’s magnificent speech acknowledged that both sides had sinned and shared in the blame. He encouraged the victors to “Judge not that we be not judged.” The reality of that horrible war showed that “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

Our nation is once again at a point where the loudest and angriest voices are more interested in fighting than finding common ground. But the vast majority of Americans are tired of fighting. They want to move forward and create a better world by working together in community. They want our nation to draw ever closer to living out America’s noble founding ideals of freedom, liberty and self-governance. They want us to follow the path laid out in the closing lines of his second inaugural address:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all … let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.” He encouraged everyone “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Those words apply to Americans living in 2021 every bit as much as they did in 1865.

Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”