Lincoln is essentially Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with bigger words. The latter said the Confederacy was the product of blood sucking monsters to be destroyed with stakes to the heart and decapitation. The former tells us Southerners simply exist to be killed with bayonet and cannonade. Far from being the “moral relativists” of conservative imagination, Hollywood has given us a version of American history characterized by absolute portrayals of good and evil, with shades of gray permitted to righteous egalitarians only divided by what tactics can best be used to exterminate their foes.
In theory, the state is the political expression of the nation, the folk culture that formed it. In modern practice, the state is a vehicle for the managerial elite to pursue their agenda. Occasionally, they throw up some universalistic rhetoric to justify it. Le destin, c’est la politique, said Napoleon. The destiny driving what was once the American Republic is a never ending crusade for egalitarianism, to be pursued even and especially if it destroys the founding population.
Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner actually deserve credit for this forthrightly celebratory account of how Lincoln and his Republican party transformed a constitutional republic into a multiracial Leviathan endlessly devouring and despising itself. The mask is ripped off, the propaganda is ever more crude, and the message is clear: we own your country now.
Lincoln, ostensibly about the life of the President, makes a few nods towards the person. Sally Field’s Mary Todd and Daniel Day Lewis’s Old Abe reminiscence and argue about her insanity, as she notes that “all anyone will remember about me is that I was crazy.” Another pointless subplot involves Joseph Gordon-Levitt standing around uselessly as Lincoln’s son Robert, who desperately wants to join the army. There is actually one moment of authentic human drama when Robert finds a pile of amputated limbs, and realizes what it is he is asking. The President smacks his own son in the midst of an argument and is torn by regret. However, the film never follow up on the inner struggles of one of the most emotionally complex men to hold the Oval Office, preferring a Carl Sandburg like focus on corny stories and wise pronouncements. While the movie doesn’t show Lincoln’s assassination, it shows his young son Tad’s reaction to the news, heartbreaking to be sure, but devoid of significance. We don’t really know this man after 150 minutes.
The main focus of the film is politics. The film follows Abraham Lincoln’s efforts in January of 1865 to pass the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, banning slavery. Lincoln has been re-elected and enjoys a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. The South is on its last legs. However, the political challenges are just beginning, as Lincoln’s Democratic opponents are sniping at him from the sidelines and the Radicals within his own party are disgusted with his compromises.
Tony Kushner’s verbose script allows Lincoln to explain the dilemma to his Cabinet – and thus, the viewer. He is quite aware he may have violated the Constitution with the Emancipation Proclamation, which, after all, arbitrarily seized the legal property of private citizens. Lincoln can justify it as a war measure. Unfortunately for abolitionism, once the South is compelled to rejoin the Union, the courts may well rule that the decree was unconstitutional. Furthermore, if Lincoln’s position is that the Confederacy is not actually a foreign power but simply a rebellion and that Southerners never legally ceased to be Americans, Lincoln’s war measures are not targeted at a foreign belligerents but domestic citizens.
The President, a lawyer by trade, knows he’s on shaky legal ground. By his own justifications, Lincoln understands that his actions have been stripped of all legality save wartime expediency and that following the war, the very slaves that he freed may be re-enslaved as a consequence of the South rejoining the Union. For that reason, slavery must be expunged entirely and the Union reforged on a new footing so Lincoln can move forward with his own postwar agenda.
If this complex legalese is making your eyes glaze over, you are not alone, as this is not a film for Civil War fanatics or even history buffs. The focus is almost entirely on internecine political struggles as Lincoln attempts to secure Democratic support for the amendment while hoping to maintain the backing of his own party. Three factions are presented – the Radical Republicans, who despise Lincoln for his moderation, the conservative Republicans, who prefer a speedy end to the war to abolition, and the rump of the Democrats, who are portrayed as racist and openly hostile to the President and the Union.
While the political maneuvering is complex, the plot is actually quite straightforward. Lincoln has to simultaneously be seen as negotiating in good faith with a Confederate peace delegation in order to satisfy some conservative Republicans, while denying that this delegation is in Washington DC. Pursuing abolitionism would obviously render any peace discussions a moot point and jeopardize support for the Amendment from the conservatives. Lincoln must also threaten, seduce, or outright bribe (with patronage jobs) enough Democratic representatives to switch parties for the vote. Finally, Lincoln must contend with the fiery Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, the Radical Republican who has never trusted him but whose support Lincoln desperately needs.
The way he does all this is simple – he corrupts, cheats, and lies. Secretary of State William Seward, all patrician elegance, recruits three roguish political operatives to offer patronage to Democrats who could be tempted into betraying their constituents. The film ironically confirms Sam Francis’s charge that “[Lincoln] could not bring himself to recognize that some people engage in politics for reasons of high principle and do not regard politics merely as a bottomless bucket of patronage” (Sam Francis, Shots Fired [Vienna, Va.: FGF Books, 2008], p. 195). After the three Republican stooges fail to sway enough Democrats, Lincoln himself lobbies some of the holdouts.
Lincoln then proceeds to deceive his fellow Republicans and peace-seeking Southerners about his desire for a cessation of hostilities. When the Southern peace commissioners impress General Ulysses S. Grant as sincere, Lincoln faces a brief moment of moral conflict about whether he has a duty to stop the fighting even if it means compromising his political goals. However, in a brief dialogue with his aides, he somehow goes on a tangent about how he read Euclid’s Geometry when he was young, and because Euclid defines mathematical equality so simply, it means that people must be equal too. “We begin with equality,” he pronounces, as his younger interlocutors stare at him in the look of admiration and awe he receives the entire film. He therefore disingenuously instructs the Confederate peace delegation to be held at a riverboat in Virginia, so he can truthfully deny that they are not in Washington DC. There will be no quarter until there is equality – after all, it’s only American lives at stake, not something important like sacred abstractions derived from ancient Greek mathematicians.
The debate itself focuses on the perfidy and humbug at the heart of the democratic process. On the day of the debate, a number of well-dressed blacks enter the House viewing chamber, to be greeted by Republicans sanctimoniously, “Welcome to your House,” and applauded. The debate begins with a typical political maneuver, as the Democrats reveal the existence of the Confederate peace delegation. Lincoln sends a note back to the House saying that there are no Confederate peace delegates in Washington that “he is aware of.” The Democrats – accurately – charge this is a lawyer’s dodge, but it’s good enough for Honest Abe and for the conservative Republicans.
The Democrats know precisely what is at stake. “This fight,” one says, “is for the United States of America.” Though in the trailer it is used to further the egalitarian message of the film, the quote is actually used in opposition to the 13th Amendment. With the film’s typical bluntness, one representative notes darkly that the 13th Amendment will lead to the “niggerization” of the entire country. A soft spoken representative from Kentucky, who pronounces that he hates slavery, opposes the Amendment on the grounds that it essentially recognizes Negroes as real fellow Americans for the first time. Once that premise is accepted, he warns, it is unsustainable to deny them suffrage, which changes the essential character of the country. And of course, where does it end? Women’s suffrage? The chamber erupts in outrage that the 13th Amendment could ever lead to such insanity.
The film’s take on political sophistication is represented by Thaddeus Stevens’s moral dilemma. The Democrats know that if he says what he actually thinks the Amendment is doomed. Therefore, Stevens gets up before the House and declares that he believes in “legal equality” for blacks but does not believe in absolute equality of all humanity. This of course, is too much for a saintly black woman in the House chamber, who walks out, her eyes permanently shrink wrapped in tears, like 80% of the characters in the film. Of course, Stevens redeems himself while still dodging the question by declaring that he can’t believe in equality because of the existence of the Democrats. Another deception accomplished, the Amendment proceeds on its way to ratification.
For some reason, Union troops around the country are closely following the vote by telegraph, as the corrupted Democrats begin to switch ranks. Ulysses S. Grant, who in real life said he would join the Confederacy if he thought the purpose of the war was to end slavery, is here following the debate just as intently as everyone else. Some of the corrupted Democrats slowly abandon their party, voting with the Republicans. The aforementioned Kentucky representative is among them, because of “freedom.” When the Amendment finally passes, the Republicans break into “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” and the nation unites in joy.
Needless to say, the blacks in the House gallery celebrate and smile beatifically, accomplishing their purpose as mascots. This is par for the course, not just for this film, but for almost all political dramas that involve the sainted Negroes. Throughout the entire film, blacks are shown as tougher, smarter, and more moral than whites. The film opens with a black soldier bragging how his regiment slaughtered Confederate soldiers in brutal hand to hand combat. The film pornographically zooms in on a Negro soldier’s boot drowning a Confederate soldier – Civil War re-enactment as seen by World Star Hip Hop. The Union Army seems to be composed of mostly Negroes, glowering in their blue uniforms at the cringing Confederate peace delegation. Blacks sit in the House gallery during the debate, looking stricken for the camera when someone says something racist, pseudo-crying when a heroic Yankee offers up a pointless banality.
Despite their obvious superiority, the Negro is oddly helpless, utterly dependent on virtuous palefaces to save him. Foremost among them here is Thaddeus Stevens. While every other film treatment of him in American history has treated him as a fanatic, here he is the moral center of the film. He rants at Abraham Lincoln about how he despises the people he represents. The moral compass has “ossified” in the heart of white men, he pronounces. He wants to outright seize all of the property of the defeated Southerners to be redistributed. He will create a “free people,” with freedom served to a populace at the point of a gun whether they want it or not. Lincoln demurs, agreeing with Stevens’s “moral compass” but questioning its practicality.
When the 13th Amendment is passed, Stevens takes the original copy to his black housekeeper. He presents it to her as a “gift” and basks in the usual Negro Tears of Moral Approval. It is revealed that he is sleeping with her as well. Stevens is thus the ultimate Yankee – preening in front of subservient, worshipful blacks, despising his own race, and using the sacred vision of Equality to display his own status and virtue. While liberal reviewers giddily view the film’s Stevens as a master of verbal repartee, he actually doesn’t present much in the way of argument, preferring to crudely insult his foes and take solace behind his equality fetishizing social worker in the sky of a “God.” Stevens is a useful reminder that even if Jews didn’t exist, white gentiles themselves are quite capable of fits of egalitarian fanaticism and anti-white hatred.
The difference is that left to their own devices, whites generally reverse course and never speak about these outbreaks again except to rue their extremism. The Terror of the French Revolution, the primitive communism of some of Oliver Cromwell’s more extreme supporters, and the brutality of what we still (for now) call Radical Reconstruction are all remembered with embarrassment.
However, Jewish control of media and academia ensures that this is changing. The new take on Reconstruction is that it was not radical enough. Evidently, the military dictatorship that ruled the South should have imitated the black soldier at the beginning and been a bit more forthcoming with the boot on the back of Dixie’s neck.
In Kushner’s earlier Angels in America, the homosexual Jew’s Jehovah is imagined as an avenging spirit of justice tormenting Roy Cohn for assisting the evil Joe McCarthy. Kushner transforms God into the Spirit of Equality and Biblical Sin into Discrimination and Conservatism. The Old Testament God lives, but rather than hellfire for blasphemy or rampant fornication, it is for denying equality. Thus, Thaddeus Stevens thunders that a Democrat who denies equality “insults God!” while the film closes with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, in which the President declares that if the war must continue until all the wealth created by slavery be expunged, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” When the 13th Amendment passes, Lincoln learns of it from the church bells ringing, as he steps to open the window behind white curtains. Thus, as the bells ring, he is bathed in angelic light. In actuality, just as Kushner, Lincoln was almost certainly an atheist.
What matters, though, is that this vision of absolute morality carries through every film. Just as mujahedin can throw acid in a woman’s face and believe they are doing God’s will, the Union soldiers of Lincoln have no hesitation or doubts about the tactics they employ or the lives they destroy. Even in Glory, Union soldiers (including colored regiments) are shown burning and pillaging Southern homes, to the disgust of officers like Robert Gould Shaw. Union quartermasters are corrupt profiteers and officers see the war as a chance to make money.
In Lincoln, there is no such complexity. Here, when vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens protests to President Lincoln that his Union was held together by bayonets and cannonade rather than democracy, Lincoln responds that all the bloodshed is worth it because of a higher vision of “democracy.” “How many hundreds of thousands have died during your Administration?” Lincoln is asked. Well, it doesn’t matter, replies the film, because of equality. Lincoln may say these lines in a soft voice with a saintly half smile, but this is ideological fanaticism of the sort that a Robespierre would admire.
In this world, most contemporary White Nationalists would argue that black slavery was an inevitable disaster not just because it brought an alien population into the midst of the country, but because of its assault on the white working class. The closest contemporary model would be illegal immigration. For that reason, many Republicans of the time saw no contradiction between wanting to prevent Negroes from living in their states while opposing the spread of slavery. Many, including Lincoln, also supported a program of African colonization so that the United States could exist as a white republic. In fact, “rainbow Confederates” oppose Lincoln for precisely this reason, charging that Lincoln was a racist American Bismarck, a centralizer who wanted to create a white empire united under big government, centralized finance, and mass industry. These subtleties are ignored in the film. The Civil War was about racist slave owners and benevolent egalitarians. The end.
The film’s one genuflection to complexity is its treatment of democracy. Kushner and Spielberg clearly sympathize with Thaddeus Stephens, who prefers to utterly destroy the South. However, in a masterfully shot dialogue, Lincoln and Stephens debate morality and practicality. Lincoln concedes that Stephens has the correct moral compass, but notes that if you simply look at true north but ignore what’s in your path, it does you no good. After all, what purpose is a compass if you fall into a swamp on the way?
Of course, after hours of watching the democratic process being corrupted, legislative input by minorities trampled, and legality openly ignored, we begin to see to see the point. The likes of Thaddeus Stevens and the film’s Lincoln are essentially the same. The democratic process is simply a way of ameliorating conservative opposition by creating the illusion that they have an input. In actuality, the entire system is just one big distraction, as anything that gets in the way of the preferred agenda – votes, the law, or widely accepted moral norms – are simply ignored. However, the whole apparatus will continue to exist so conservatives can pretend that they matter.
Everything that the film’s “bad guys” predicts actually occurs, as even a casual glance at what was once our country confirms. However, this is explicitly the point of the movie. It’s precisely because the film’s Lincoln lied about what he was proposing that Kushner believes he was a great leader. Incidentally, he believes that Obama is following the same path. As for Spielberg, he believes that situation is essentially the same as contemporary America, only now the Democrats are the “good guys” and Republicans are the “bad guys.”
Kushner and Spielberg actually deserve credit for this crude propaganda piece. Swelling music, beatific Negroes, dishwatery rhetoric, and Union flags a-waving sweeten the explicit message of the film that America is about equality by any means necessary. In one pivotal scene, Lincoln tells a black woman that he doesn’t really know “her people” but he expects that they are much the same. Well, we see how that worked out.
As white Americans look around at the Third World wreckage that Thaddeus Stevens and others helped to build, this is a lesson that is aptly timed. The legislative process is a farce, the law doesn’t matter, and if you don’t like it, we’ll bribe you, deceive you, or just kill you. Lincoln shows that all the complicated machinery of government is simply one continual marketing campaign to trick you into thinking you have some legal way to resist your dispossession. As for the final agenda, the film is kind enough to show that too – a black boot stamping on a white face – forever.