An analysis of the Republican Party’s duality and unjustified idolization of Abraham Lincoln as the face of their cause.
Glory is earned, not inherited. Yet when power is inherited in capitalistic societies, the powerful justify this success with the triumphs of their predecessors. In the 2020 election, we heard many Republican politicians boast about their party’s most renowned figure, Abraham Lincoln. One characteristic uniting all GOP leaders, from John Kasich to Donald Trump, is their outward respect for Lincoln. Yet, Lincoln’s political philosophy was in direct conflict with current Republican neo-capitalist ideologies which rely on devaluing labor. It is blatantly ignorant to present oneself as a beacon of racial justice because of the actions of one great party leader. Without understanding the leftist philosophy that contributed to Lincoln’s eventual decision to abolish slavery, Republicans cannot claim to be the voice of Black America. This knowledge gap results in American conservatives simply whitesplaining why they believe All Lives Matter. It results in them richsplaining their reasoning behind keeping a deplorable minimum wage. It results in them mansplaining why maternity leave is not needed. Respecting Marxist influences in Lincoln’s approach is crucial to maintaining an educated legacy of Lincoln alive in the Republican policy. His views were molded by a labor-centric thought which has simply disappeared in the GOP. Instead of using such revered figures to score political morality points, our admiration must extend beyond the person and into their methodology. Then we can use this informed public memory to build bridges and engage in multilateral compromise.
The propaganda against socialist ideology is fraught with fear-mongering from the Republican party. It infiltrates discussions on worker benefits, welfare, healthcare and many other topics. Yet, Lincoln’s extensive correspondence with Karl Marx suggests that socialist values were in fact a contributing factor to Lincoln’s eventual decision to emancipate all slaves following the Civil War. More specifically, in Marx’s own letter to Lincoln, he exclaimed that the Confederacy “maintain[ed] slavery to be a beneficent institution” justified by the capital of the south. Though they had many differing opinions, there is extensive documentation of consensus between the two political figures on the simple fact that no capitalist had a right to free labor.
The Republican Party of the 21st century simply does not share this belief as seen by their consistent refusal to increase the minimum wage. Economic rewiring is simply too much of a hassle for them: even if it allows the majority to live under increasingly humane conditions. Minimum wage is about the innate value of labor, a value recognized by Lincoln, Marx and the 21st century Democratic Party, but not by a significant portion of the Republican Party’s current leadership. In fact, the modern interpretation of the 13th Amendment has given conservatives another way to devalue labor as involuntary servitude is allowed as a “punishment for crime.” This modern interpretation disproportionately affects Black Americans, reinstating a practice of bondage in prison rather than using this institution to counsel those who are convicted. When a majority of America believed that slavery was unjustified, Lincoln pushed to stop the practice, regardless of future implications for rich plantation owners. He followed the will of the republic. When today, two-thirds of Americans support a hike in minimum wage, the Republican Party decides to be anything but republican. The voluntary omission of Lincoln’s left-leaning beliefs has made it easier and easier for legislators to cater to the wealthy at the expense of the working class.
Once we accept Lincoln’s belief that all labor has intrinsic value, we can expand the implications to workers’ rights as a whole. We can start to respect the value of all labor, including household work such as child-rearing. Though these aspects of labor, known as the social reproduction theory, were relatively insignificant in Marx’s literature, it is conceivable that in present time he would place value on social reproduction as many of his followers now do. It is not too far of a stretch to believe that Lincoln would share these values on the importance of labor outside of commodity production. However, Republicans of today do not even support parental leave. Raising children is a necessary process to power production for the sanctity of any economy, yet when faced with a simple proposition such as humane paid leave “they are worried about the costs associated with creating a national paid family and medical leave program.” To revere the greatness of Abraham Lincoln while discounting all the left-leaning philosophies that led him to abolish slavery is preposterous. The chassis of his political legacy was emancipation, but the inner workings of his legacy are greatly embedded with ideas on the value of hard work.
Our informed reverence can translate into compromise, understanding, and action benefiting all citizens, not just some. Modern republicans, however, have conveniently chosen to forget the leftist philosophy embedded in the social justice achieved by Lincoln. While many in America have been convinced to completely disavow leftist philosophy, our ancestors understood the promises that such a system holds. It is hard to respect Lincoln without respecting at least some socialist beliefs. Afterall, a purely capitalistic system can devalue labor for maximum profit to a point of slavery. Lincoln and Marx had their differences, but more importantly they refused to use propaganda to completely nullify each other’s philosophies. It is time for American Republicans to follow their lead and accept that ideological understanding and progressive policies are a package deal. A deeper understanding of all of the political ideologies which have previously shaped our efforts at achieving social and economic justice can inform our contemporary approaches in the realm of public policy. With this updated public memory, we can focus on compromises that blend a plethora of all of our ideologies to benefit the United States’ entire citizenry.
Art by Angela Liang for the UC San Diego Guardian.