Of the many photographs taken of Theodore Roosevelt reading, this one is perhaps the most beguiling. It was taken in 1905, when the president was on vacation. He used his time off to go bear hunting in Colorado on horseback with a small group of friends. While there, he stayed in the “West Divide Creek ranch house,” a simple log cabin.
Roosevelt was famous as a man of action. Few presidents had his love of ‘roughing it,’ though many were endowed, as he was, with physical courage and military zeal. Roosevelt’s love of adventure sprang from wanting to prove himself by facing elemental challenges. This passion fueled his love of sport (such as boxing) as well as his famous excursion toward the end of his life to find the headwaters of the Amazon. As president, he was resolute, tackling the prickliest dilemmas in a forthright, all-out way.
At the same time, Roosevelt’s effectiveness derived from his great intellectual capacities. He was a voracious reader, devouring information and knowledge like a large fish feeding with mouth open wide. He read and wrote compulsively, regardless of his official duties. Being intellectual was intrinsic to his identity. Knowledge clarified the problems he confronted, undergirding Roosevelt’s confidence and leadership skills.
Photographers accompanied Roosevelt on his Wild West vacation. This allowed the public to see another side of the president, barren of conventional symbols of prestige. Yet beneath the ratty clothes and ridiculous hat, Roosevelt’s big-heartedness, joie de vivre, and seriousness remained much in evidence. The dog on his lap joined the Roosevelt household, when Teddy took him back to the White House to stay.
After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on 14 April 1865, his body was carried by train to Springfield, Illinois, where Mary Todd Lincoln, his widow, had determined the late president would be buried. The progress of his remains by rail was sedate and lengthy, as his casket was paraded through many cities and the funeral train traveled at a top speed of 20 miles per hour. Lincoln’s journey to the grave was an unprecedented national spectacle, as tens of thousands of citizens turned out to view his cortege.
Yet, even as they mourned, conflict over Lincoln’s final destination brewed. On the one hand, the leading lights of Springfield had formed a plan to place his body in a tomb in a highly visible location that could be seen from a train. These men, acting without consulting Lincoln’s widow, raised $50,000, bought 6 acres of land, and set crews to work night and day building a vault that would be ready to receive Lincoln’s body on May 24, the date appointed for his funeral. This tomb, located on land called “the Mather Block,” was built into the hill where the Illinois statehouse stands today.
Their plans did not sit well with Mary Todd Lincoln. She recalled Abe once saying that he would like to be buried at Oak Ridge, a secluded rural cemetery two miles away. Mrs Lincoln had a terrible time convincing the prominent men who had backed the Mather Vault to commit to burying Lincoln at Oak Ridge instead. Eventually, though, she prevailed. On the day of Lincoln’s funeral, his remains were laid in Oak Ridge’s receiving vault. More funds were raised and a fit memorial to Lincoln rose. An imposing granite obeliskwith a statuary group at its base declared the location of his resting place. Lincoln’s body was moved from the receiving vault to this tomb in 1874.
Two years later, a group of men taking orders from Chicago counterfeiter Big Jim Kennally tried to steal Lincoln’s body. Kennally wanted the body as ransom for $200,000 in cash and the release of his partner-in-crime, convicted engraver Benjamin Boyd, then doing time in the Illinois “pen.” When Kennally unwittingly hired a government informant to join in as a grave-robber, the plot was exposed.
The incident prompted the tomb’s custodian, John Carroll Power, to form a secret band of local men to help him guard Lincoln’s remains. Power and his men managed to move Lincoln’s heavy cedar-and-lead coffin from its proper spot to an undisclosed hiding place in Memorial’s basement. The remains of the three Lincoln boys who had predeceased their father remained in the upper burial chamber. When Mary Todd Lincoln died in 1882, her body was interred there too. Paradoxically, the secrecy surrounding the exact location of Lincoln’s coffin (hidden downstairs under a woodpile) fed doubt as to whether it still contained his corpse.
In 1899, Robert Todd Lincoln, the Lincolns’ only surviving child, visited the memorial and directed that the entire structure be razed and rebuilt. Abraham Lincoln’s coffin and those of his family members were removed from the memorial and buried nearby in a temporary grave (shown in the foreground of the picture above). In April 1901, several photographers were on hand to record the proceedings as Lincoln’s heavy coffin (said to weigh between 400 and 500 pounds) was lifted out of the grave and re-interred in the new and improved memorial. Over a hundred people and several children watched as a crane operator opened the temporary grave, removing the enormous stone slabs covering it, and revealing the Lincoln family coffins for all to see.
Yet, even after the day’s events, which restored the Lincoln family remains to the relative safety of the new vault, Robert Todd Lincoln was not entirely satisfied. He remained worried that his father’s remains could be stolen or desecrated. So, he decided to have a steel cage constructed around his parents’ coffins, deep underground. Once the coffins were placed inside the cage, several feet of concrete would be laid above it, thick enough to insure their inviolable repose.
By September 1901, a crew was ready to execute this plan. Local dignitaries were called together to witness this final transfer of Lincoln’s remains. At this point, a spontaneous impulse arose among the group to open Lincoln’s coffin and verify the presence of his corpse. Though opinion was divided, those in favor of opening the coffin prevailed. Two local workmen were called out to cut open the section of the coffin lid over Lincoln’s head. The crowd of 23 witnesses recoiled from the wave of a shockingly strong smell. Then, as one, they instinctively leaned in to see what was inside.
Lincoln’s visage was completely recognizable. Covered with a powdery white chalk (taken to be a funerary cosmetic), Lincoln’s flesh had turned a deep leathery bronze. His whiskers, hair, and mole were all intact, though his eyebrows were gone. Spidery bits of yellow mildew clung to the broadcloth suit he’d been buried in. (He had worn it a week before his murder to his second inauguration.) His gloves (which he hated to wear) had disintegrated, along with his pillow rest and a small flag that had been placed on his chest, but not his bow tie. Some theorize that the body was in a remarkably good state of preservation owing to the repeated embalming necessary to preserve it during its long journey west in 1865.
Image: Photograph by Guy R. Mathis,
“Removing Lincoln’s Body, No. 9,” from this source.
It’s been over a week since the presidential race was called for Biden, yet the loser in the White House refuses to concede. The victor’s camp has had to watch endless analyses of the loser’s situation, which with time grows more pathetic and bizarre. The media continues to cover Trump, take his words to heart, and repeat them when they don’t deserve repeating. A few sycophants continue to treat him as if his wishes and grudges matter. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani’s scatter-shot press conference in defense of the President, held mistakenly at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, sandwiched between a dildo shop and a crematorium in a banal corner of suburban Philadelphia, offers a visual metaphor for how dodgy and disreputable Trump’s protestations are.
Meanwhile, the victor and the victorious electorate have been cheated of the whoop and holler of all-out jubilation. Yes, Biden backers partied in the streets the day the election was called and rallied to cheer Biden’s sweet victory later that night. Yet a cloud hangs over Biden’s lawful assumption of the presidency, because the current president refuses to acknowledge what Biden has accomplished—refuses to acknowledge the people’s choice. Until someone chops down Trump’s tree of refusal, Biden’s win remains in the loser’s shade.
It’s incontrovertible that Biden defeated Trump. As of this morning, Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. Biden won by flipping five states that Trump won in 2016: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia. His margins could have been fatter in Arizona and Michigan, but only in Georgia are the results close enough to justify a recount, which is occurring now. Even if Georgia were to go to Trump instead of Biden, it wouldn’t be enough to touch Biden’s win.
An astonishing number of Americans (about 73 millions) turned out for Trump. He received the highest number of votes ever cast for a Republican candidate, but, in this year of astronomical turnout, Biden far eclipsed him, winning roughly 78.8 million votes out of some 152 million cast. Biden received over 5.6 million more votes than Trump.
Trump’s childish inability to accept the results is unfortunate, but far more dastardly is the behavior of others in the Republican party, who indulge Trump instead of pressuring him to concede. Of particular moment is the formal beginning of the transition process. Once the formal transfer of power begins, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The incoming administration will then be privy to what is going on in the Trump White House, greatly reducing the risk of any dangerous lame-duck shenanigans. So far, though, a single Trump appointee, GSA administrator Emily Murphy, has held up this process, by declining to ascertain that Biden won. She is siding with the defeated incumbent instead of with the American people.
Yet the moment is coming: Power is drifting away from Trump and incrementally consolidating around president-elect Biden. The news outlets are debunking Trump’s claims of fraud. Secretaries of state and other officials all across the US are explicitly defending the integrity of the elections they conducted. The New York Times reported on a group of election officials who say this was the most secure election in US history. Makes sense, given the fears raised over interference in 2016. Since then. states have made substantial progress in improving election security and defending against any type of interference or fraud.
It’s time for the Trump era to fade to Biden. Catcalls, boos, and rotten tomatoes will rain down on Trump, if he can’t improvise a graceful exit tout suite. Only a buffoon enjoys being humiliated: whether Trump is one will become evident now.
The only presidential poll that counts is the one Americans vote in. That being the case, are there ways (other than opinion polling) to evaluate whether Biden will win? In the run-up to Election Day, I’m thinking of the odds of his victory in terms of all that has happened since 2016, when Donald Trump scored an electoral-college victory despite Hillary Clinton’s greater popularity. About 137 million people participated in that election. How will roughly the same electorate behave in the matchup between Trump and Biden?
Of the 65 million people who voted for Clinton, few are going to switch over to Trump this time. Clinton voters remain firmly opposed to Trump–to people who identify as liberals or Democrats, he is completely anathema. Knowing that they constitute a numerical majority, they are highly motivated to defeat him this time. Clinton voters want to see someone of their kind in the White House.
In the past four years, I have never met or heard of a Clinton voter believes Trump is a good guy. So I can’t imagine there will be many defections from that solid Democratic column. At a minimum, Biden can count on capturing at least as many popular votes as Clinton.
In addition, he will enjoy the support of many Americans who did not turn out for Clinton in 2016. Many male voters will turn out for Biden who either went for Trump or refrained from voting in 2016. Some voters perceived Clinton to have character issues; others harbored intense animus toward her, dating from her husband Bill’s presidency. For some, Clinton’s sex was itself disqualifying. Biden is not a better candidate or person than Hillary, but he is male. He lacks the tangential but still consequential negatives that turned off some of the Democratic voting base.
Biden will also likely do better with supporters of Bernie Sanders than Clinton could. Sanders voters shunned Clinton in 2016. This time around, they are somewhat more likely to vote for Biden because of the urgency of defeating Trump, because of Sanders’s urging, and because it’s evident that the progressive agenda is gaining ground within the Democratic Party. Young voters are mobilizing themselves to save the world. They are more likely to cast a vote this time around than to sit it out. And for those who mind Biden’s age and moderation, Kamala Harris represents a conditional promise that the White House will be occupied by a fairly progressive woman of color should Biden die.
Finally, Biden will get the vote of every Trump “resistor.” Notably, black Americans hate Trump for turning a blind eye to racism and police brutality, threatening military action against protestors (whom he branded as terrorists), and encouraging white supremacy. Tens of thousands of blacks who didn’t care about the last election and/or don’t particularly care for Biden will nonetheless turn out for him. It appears they are already vote at higher rates and with more enthusiasm than they did in 2016.
So that is it for Biden’s positive voting base. Now, when we look at Trump’s support what do we see?
Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was narrow–very narrow. The percentage of Americans who approve of him has remained below 50 percent for throughout his presidency. This verdict on Trump has remained remarkably stable: Trump was marginally more popular when he was inaugurated than he’s ever since. Today, he has the good opinion of only 43 percent, and those fans are not necessarily distributed advantageously across the country. As president, Trump has done nothing to “make friends” or broaden his appeal. On the contrary, he has gone out of his way to alienate many Americans, specifically by treating everyone who opposes him as an enemy. Now, the majority who dislike Trump have a chance to act. This majority comprises not just Democrats but infrequent and independent voters who are likely to go for Biden this time around.
Meanwhile, cadres of Republican voters and officials have repudiated Trump in favor of Biden. The open defection of elder statesmen, leading scientists and intellectuals, distinguished civil servants, military brass, and former Republican officials (including a number of former governors) is one of the more extraordinary aspects of the 2020 race. It is a sign of the Republican party’s general decrepitude.
For, while Trump has dishonored the Republican party, the Republican-controlled Senate has shocked and disappointed Americans of all stripes in failing to check Trump or to stand up for the Constitution or the rule of law. Senate Republicans have instead executed the president’s evil will, siding with him and enabling him to prevail in ways that are contrary to our values and the national interest. So Trump will suffer because the entire Republican brand is poisoned. Voting Republican has become synonymous with being provincial, hateful, and anti-modern.
In addition, Trump’s full-bore attacks on the press and journalists (many of them women); reports of his nasty remarks about fallen soldiers and those who have served in the military; his lack of concern for the poor, the ill, and elderly; and his obvious inability to deal with smart women have cost him many votes and sent many once-loyal Republicans to the other side. His explicit attacks on Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and discriminatory approach to COVID relief, which has prompted him to withhold vitally needed aid from Democratic-leaning parts of the polity, are insults and injuries fresh in voters’s minds as they go to the polls.
In the end, how many Americans will decide that their best interest lies in allowing Trump to continue to lead the US? What will they get out of his being in charge for another four years? The social and cultural landscape of the US is withering away, along with its vibrant economy, because Trump has no definite economic or social vision. His lack of executive ability and essentially corrupt mentality have been especially evident since the coronavirus epidemic hit. Biden is more open, more compassionate and fair. He can lead a suffering nation; Trump can’t.
Early voting augurs a historically high turnout for this election. The high volume makes it more likely that Biden will sufficiently improve on Clinton’s margins to prevail in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, where Trump won largely as a result of apathy. The spread of COVID-19 in rural and red portions of the US will likely dampen enthusiasm and turnout for Trump among Republicans, who are said to prefer voting in person on Election Day.
The 2020 election is a critical one. I believe that most Americans are good, that most accept and want to live by a time-tested political creed of fairness and toleration. I believe that most want the US to be governed by the rule of law. Sadly, millions of Americans support Trump because they do not care about these values enough to embrace social changes they bring. I believe that Americans want to step into the future, that they want to become a fully multiracial and forward-looking country.
It’s hard to know what will happen if voters elect Biden, but if the US doesn’t move forward it’s going to go down.
Hospitalized with a contagious disease, the president continued to behave recklessly. Yesterday, he demanded that his Secret Service detail pile into a hermetically sealed car with him to parade him past a few well-wishers congregating outside. Trump’s macho spree, which needlessly compromised his agents’ health, marked a nadir in his relations with Americans already disgusted and fed up with his grossly irresponsible, inconsiderate ways.
It is terribly demoralizing to realize that someone so ungoverned and ungovernable will be returning to the summit of American power. Last week, the New York Times’ expose of Trump’s finances showed cheating to be one of Trump’s lifelong passions, whereas Tuesday’s debate showed Trump to be deeply unreliable when truth and trust are needed most. Trump is like a faithless husband to the US, his bride. His love of lying and threats toward voters and other segments of the American population are abusive traits, which, in a marriage, no self-respecting spouse would tolerate. Yet no one in America can rein in Donald Trump or call him to account.
As Trump returns to the White House from Walter Reed, the nation braces for the next episode of this excruciating charade. Even though Biden is ahead in the polls, whether the US is on the verge of being rid of Donald Trump or Republican control of the Senate is still very uncertain. The people in Trump’s administration, his allies in the Senate and elsewhere, donors and capitalists who support Trump for cynical reasons: their actions threaten America’s very being. Today, I wonder whether the US can survive as a republic if they pull off a win. In any event, it will take years of effort to build back better, to check the destructive forces that Trump has summoned. American voters have the power, if only they will wield it, to stave off further disaster, so that reform can begin.