Letter to the editor: Our better angels

To the editor:

Michael Gerson writes on a variation of an old theme. Following victory at Fredericksburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee said: “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Gerson cites liberal philosopher William James (“Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and thousands of years of peace won’t breed it out of us.”), writing, “There is little doubt that President Donald Trump has tapped into deep rivers of pugnacity and aggression… He has organized and weaponized resentments against outsiders in the manner of a militarist… He has summoned everything that is tribal, vindictive and irrational in the American character.” Gerson asks whether Democratic presidential candidates, and particularly Joe Biden, must similarly tap into this darker shade of the human condition.

Trump turns us inward against each other. He points out differences which he identifies as existential threats. In March 1861 Abraham Lincoln confronted similar divisions when he gave his first Inaugural Address in a city so divided by intrigue and danger that he had to sneak in, in the dark of night. He said:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Angels are not shy in the unending battle against the most ancient of evils — ignorance and want. Nor should we be.

William Skepnek,



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