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Will Whatley: What Would Lincoln Do?

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

Back in college, I decided to minor in History because I thought I should learn about how we’d arrived at that moment in time if I wanted to try to understand where we were going. I focused my studies on the history of the South, both before and after the Civil War. One summer, I needed to fill a History 300-level course requirement so I decided to take a class on Abraham Lincoln. The professor concentrated his studies on Lincoln when he graduated from Harvard, and I thought that with what I’d already learned so far, it might be a little boring but an easy class. And while it wasn’t as easy as I thought, it was much more interesting than I’d expected.

See, I was in a conundrum: as a Christian conservative Republican, I was loyal to the party-which just so happened to be the one that beat my home state in a war that was casually referred to as the one of “northern aggression” like it was a college football Saturday. Did I really like Lincoln? Was that even allowed? I figured the only way to answer these questions was to pay attention in class and do the required readings. And y’all, I actually did those things which was impressive for me in a summer class. Do you know how hard it is to turn down pool season in college to read a book about the famously bearded 16th president of the United States?

It’s devastatingly ironic that John Wilkes Booth’s “act of defiance” in honor of the South ultimately hindered the country’s unity because Lincoln had what sounded like solid plans to reunify the country after years of bloody wars amongst family members. In fact, Lincoln offered presidential pardons to all, outside of political leaders, who fought in the name of the Confederacy if they took an oath of future allegiance to the Union of the States. While Lincoln obviously supported confrontation, he also supported the ideas of reconciliation, redemption, and acceptance.

“Cancel culture” has inarguably become the latest social fad. There have been a number of things “cancelled” lately. From childhood icons like Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head to even the Neanderthals now apparently, we’re all ready to react instead of reflect. I feel like one factor why “cancel culture” (and the current status of whatever’s considered “political discussion”) is a phenomenon right now is because of immediate gratification. We’re too reactionary, myself included. Like they say, “patience is a virtue.” This isn’t to say that not all reactions are wrong, but there seems to be nothing to the idea of this form of social justice other than identifying offenders.

The big problem I see with “cancel culture” is that there seems to be absolutely no plan to rehabilitate offenders. The Civil War was fought in part because Lincoln confronted the Confederacy over an issue of social justice, but he had plans for reunification. People are imperfect beings who do numerous things for a variety of reasons that we will never understand, so there are going to be people who make mistakes. But much like people who commit crimes, we need some sort of weird social system for the accused to amend for their transgressions.

People aren’t irredeemable, and we should give those people who do something wrong a chance to atone for their social sins. We can’t do that if we just write them off and toss them aside. All that does is further engrain those feelings into their belief system. If we want true change, we need to focus on education, a chance for redemption, and a welcoming back into the fold. If unity is truly the goal, we need to focus on ways to extend grace instead of the lash of the whip.

Look if it was up to me, I would burn down the Internet and we would all go back to buying encyclopedias. Despite all its positives, its drawbacks may have caused irreparable social damage. It seems the only thing we can seem to agree on is that cats are weirdly fascinating creatures. I don’t understand how things have disintegrated to this point but things aren’t irretrievably broken. Talk, listen, be respectful, and try to understand. That’s not exactly asking for much, is it?

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