Among my library borrowings lately had been Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis magnificent in the title role and Sally Field no less excellent as Mary Todd Lincoln. Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner wrote the script, paring down an initial 500 pages to home in on the final four months of Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts in January 1865 to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives.
Naturally one wonders about the historical accuracy of the movie. It turns out that in many respects it is very accurate: see Fact-Checking ‘Lincoln’: Lincoln’s Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren’t.
Lincoln is not a perfect film, but it is an important film. Spielberg has positioned his work as something that should unite a divided nation in the aftermath of the 2012 election, but, paradoxically, his story points to a different conclusion. Sean Wilentz, one of those rare historians who moves seamlessly between the academy and the public sphere, noted that “Abraham Lincoln was, first and foremost, a politician.” Lincoln probably didn’t bribe congressmen to pass the 13th Amendment, but he instructed others to do so. He forged a deep connection with soldiers and their families, and won 78 percent of the soldier vote in 1864 because of it. He knew the power of his office, and used it.
See also David Denby in The New Yorker.
Steven Spielberg began by hiring the best playwright in the country. According to the press notes for the film, Tony Kushner, immersing himself in the politics and language of the period, delivered a five-hundred page script, which was unfilmable except as a TV mini-series. At some point, when Kushner was in his car, Spielberg called, and said something like, “The best part of your script is the eighty pages devoted to passing the Thirteenth Amendment. Let’s make the whole movie about that.”
I loved it. Meanwhile in the real world we have a much less believable script playing out. Here he is paying attention at the G7:
And now we have him lining up with Syria and Nicaragua to hand a propaanda gift to China: China tells Donald Trump there is an ‘international responsibility’ to act over climate change. Not that Trump’s decision is really a surprise. See Every Insane Thing Donald Trump Has Said About Global Warming.
Tell you what though: Daniel Day-Lewis was a much more convincing POTUS!