We are still living in the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination. The forces that nearly broke the union are living with us in different forms, and we have no Lincoln to help us through them. Or if we do, that person has yet to show the signal traits.
The force that drove the war — even more than slavery did — was a careless combativeness that stymied our talent for compromise and opened the door to calamity. Does it sound familiar? And today’s divisions are entirely shorn of the decency, simplicity, heroism and gallantry that marked the war period.
If indeed we are facing another national calamity, it may turn out, like the war, to be unlike anything we expected. It would surely make that frieze of fighting men in Spielberg’s film look like a halcyon episode. It might even make the flaming towers of 9/11 look like an interlude.
Unlike the rest of the world, we do have a place to look if we are serious about avoiding such a fate. Lincoln was unique among us; he was also unique to us. The soil of America produced him, and can produce another like him.
We know about nightmare scenarios. How about an inspiring one? May we not imagine that another Lincoln is working to appear among us, fighting even now to be known?
David Landau, a novelist in San Francisco, is writing a drama for stage about the Civil War.