President Donald Trump on Sunday complained that he had been treated worse by the media than another other president, including Abraham Lincoln. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin gave some perspective to that claim and suggested the president would do well to learn from his predecessors who’ve led through crises.
Goodwin appeared Monday morning on CNN to discuss Trump’s remarks at the Lincoln Memorial for a Fox News virtual town hall. During a tirade against the “hostile press,” the president had gestured toward the monument and said, “I believe I am treated worse” than Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865.
“It’s an incredible statement when you think about it,” Goodwin said, shaking her head. “You can’t compare the time, either. Yes, it’s true the country is split now in a partisan way. Yes, it’s true that we have a divided media.”
“But we were talking about a civil war with Abraham Lincoln, 600,000 people dying, a North and a South that had entirely different interpretations of what was going on. Let us never think that we’re going back to such a period of time.”
Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of presidential history bestseller “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” also noted that all presidents are unhappy with press treatment but that it’s simply “part of democracy.”
Specifically referring to how Lincoln was treated by the press, she described the intensely bifurcated media the 16th president faced but noted that “he would hardly complain” about that treatment.
“How much better if you can just use the understanding of free press is part of what we are,” she said, adding an acknowledgment that it’s easy to foster resentment over bad coverage.
Rather, she suggested that Trump should compare himself “to other presidents who’ve led us through crisis and who’ve done things that you can learn from. That would be so much better use of his time.”
Goodwin also praised the messaging in former President George W. Bush’s video appeal urging unity during the challenging times imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a message Trump had swiftly rejected. On that note, the historian suggested a piece of Lincoln’s own advice to “put past resentments aside.”