Trump's Lincolnian rhetoric

Both speeches apply Trump’s overarching campaign theme of speaking on behalf of the people versus the special interests. “It is time for rule by the people, not rule by special interests” Trump tells his large audiences. Rule “by the people” is a way of returning us to consent, or recognizing the sovereignty of the people. They have to consent to the laws that govern them. This is just another way of saying the “rule of law” or, in moments of disorders such as the assassinations of police, law and order. We cannot be said to be living under the rule of law if chaos rather than law governs us.

To be fully understood, Trump’s understanding of the rule of law demands comparison with the greatest American president, Lincoln. And Lincoln’s greatest law and order speech is his address on the “Perpetuation of our Political Institutions.” This was his first notable speech, the themes of which were fleshed out a quarter-century later in his Gettysburg Address.

Briefly, Lincoln bemoaned a national spate of lawlessness that produced lynchings and acts of brutality against various disfavored groups. This collapse of the rule of law, he argued, would ultimately lead to the rise of a tyrant and the destruction of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as our founding resources. America would thereby lose its greatness and with it “the noblest of causes—establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.”