Gettysburg, Lincoln, and Science

Throughout the Democratic National Convention, I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address which ended with “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” I could only imagine what Lincoln would think of how Trump has perverted the party Lincoln founded. If I were an artist, I would depict tears of sorrow flowing down the cheeks of Lincoln as he is immortalized at the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital.

I am unapologetically a liberal Democrat and, thus, enjoyed and affirm our party’s convention. Every night unveiled the deeper truths of the genius of our democracy “of, by, and for the people.” I despair of anyone who cannot see the gigantic and qualitative differences between Biden/Harris and Trump/Pence. Trump’s inadequacy, pettiness, and cruelty are in sharp contrast to Biden’s decency, experience, and empathy. I know Biden is not perfect, and more importantly, Biden knows he’s not perfect. But he is willing to seek the advice and wisdom of those who know more than he does. Trump, who knows more than scientists, doctors, generals, admirals, teachers, and, probably in his mind, God, has neither the humility nor the common sense to take advantage of the massive resources at his disposal—which brings me to my point in this article.

Even before Trump’s election, he disparaged scientists and scientific facts. In spite of the overwhelming consensus of scientists regarding the dire threat of the climate crisis, Trump labels any belief in the crisis as a hoax. And when the Coronavirus hit our nation and began its ruthless culling of our population, Trump downplayed all the warnings he received from scientists and physicians. He labeled the Coronavirus a “Democratic hoax.” When it was obvious that the virus was real and deadly, he said it would infect only “fifteen people and then, like a miracle, it would disappear.” When more than fifteen people contracted the virus and began to die, he blamed the Chinese. When the death toll exceeded one hundred thousand, he said he accepted no responsibility for the crisis. In the meantime, he began to recommend dangerous and untested cures. And when the number of deaths rose above one hundred and fifty thousand, he said, “It is what it is.” Had he listened to the scientific and medical experts, the damage done by this virus would have been far less than we have suffered to date. Too many people trusted the man they worshipped, and the consequences of that blind trust and idolatry have been lethal.

If Trump had allowed the wisdom and facts of science to guide his approach to the Coronavirus, the impact of that virus would have been a mere fraction of what it has become. The personal, economic, social, and psychological consequences of Covid-19 would not be plaguing us to the extent they are today had Trump listened to reason. But in his arrogance and greed (he wanted a growing economy so he could be reelected), he was not willing to take the necessary steps to protect the people. And we should not ignore the fact that part of the reason he continues to neglect his duty is because too many Americans also reject the recommendations of science regarding this virus. The refusal to wear masks properly is a stubborn, selfish, and ignorant act of rebellion and a dismissal of the medical and scientific advice which could bring this pandemic under control within three to four weeks. This petulant and childish behavior is not worthy of the liberty so many have struggled for from the battlefield of Gettysburg to the streets of Selma.

So, what does this have to do with Gettysburg? In the same year President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address which spoke eloquently of the vigilance necessary to maintain a government of, by, and for the people, he established the National Academy of Sciences. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, regarding the importance and legacy of such an institution, that it had the long-term effect of “setting our Nation on a course of scientifically enlightened governance, without which we all may perish from this earth.”

The Gettysburg Address inspires us to remember the continual cost of liberty. We can have no sane, lasting, noble, and free nation without the dedication, courage, and sacrifice of all the people. The establishment of the National Academy of Sciences reminds us that such liberty also depends on truth and integrity. A nation that functions in opposition to truth (science is all about the pursuit of truth) is destined to decline and fall. Science does not have all the truth we need to be human and noble, but it does contain necessary truth for us to survive and flourish. We err tragically and disastrously if we ignore or reject that truth.

The freedom Lincoln talked about at Gettysburg is secure only as long as those who are free act responsibly. And acting responsibly in our world requires adherence to science. Freedom and wisdom are necessary sisters in the vigilant maintenance of our democracy. We are not free to be stupid and ignorant. We are free to be responsible and caring. Otherwise, like the temper tantrum prone child in the White House, we will self-destruct.

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