Hello, it's Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, the morning after the GOP wrapped up the second online presidential nominating convention in American history. This is also the day the week when I reprise an instructive or inspirational quotation. Today's comes from Lara Trump, or maybe Abe Lincoln.
Shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, President Trump's 37-year-old daughter-in-law addressed the 2020 viral Republican convention. Speaking in the empty but ornate Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., with a backdrop of American flags, Lara Trump lauded her husband's father as a man with a history of promoting women to positions of authority and listening to their counsel. In keeping with the 2020 Trump campaign theme, she also invoked the specter of socialism. Here's how she teed up that point:
"This is not just a choice between Republican and Democrat or left and right. This is an election that will decide if we keep America America or if we head down an uncharted frightening path towards socialism."
Here next two sentences, though, are what sent the Internet on fire, and galvanized a hundred media fact-checkers into action:
"Abraham Lincoln once famously said America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. While those words were spoken over 150 years ago, never have they been more relevant."
I was watching her speech (the relevant passage is at the four-minute mark) and recognized the Lincoln reference, and have written about it in the context of modern U.S. politics myself. It's from 1838, and it concerns mob violence -- and how it undermines the foundations of self-government. I thought it particularly apt. But notice above how I punctuated Lara Trump's quote in my mind, which was a speech, not a written article. Here, however, is how her critics heard it:
"Abraham Lincoln once famously said, ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.' While those words were spoken over 150 years ago, never have they been more relevant."
Now that's a horse of a different color because Lincoln never said "those words," no matter what a Republican speechwriter unearthed on the web. And armed with snark and a predisposition to assume everything uttered by any Trump is false, media fact-checkers and self-appointed social media critics ridiculed the first daughter-in-law as a foolish dilettante. The height of snideness might have been a People magazine "fact-check," which in a single story characterized Lara Trump's citation as "a fake Lincoln quote," "a viral Lincoln quote that historians have specified the 16th president never said," a "made-up quote" that has been "debunked," and a "misconstrued… politically charged meme."
In truth, although Lara Trump wasn't quoting Lincoln directly (even if she thought she was), she didn't misconstrue his point at all. Her rendition is a pretty succinct paraphrase of what Lincoln did say and she had the political context right, too.
At the time, Lincoln was a 28-year-old lawyer recently settled in Springfield, Ill. On Jan. 27, 1838, he gave a speech to a group called the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield. His topic was mob violence in St. Louis against blacks and a white abolitionist newspaper publisher. His words, reprinted in a local newspaper, soon found resonance far beyond the village of Springfield. You could consider it the first speech in the movement that would become the Republican Party.
"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?" Lincoln said. "Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years."
Lincoln continued: "At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
And that's your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.