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Good morning, it’s Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. Eighteen years ago today, in the fading evening light of a tragic and trying day in American history, 150 members of Congress stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. After a few brief remarks, they bowed their heads in silence for the lives taken in the devastating attack against this country. Republican stood next to Democrat, senators embraced House members, congressional leaders were side-by-side with freshmen.

But mournfulness wasn’t the most prevalent emotion at the Capitol, a building that itself was a likely target of the terrorists. Resilience was the order of the day -- and national unity. As if on cue, those members of the 107th Congress spontaneously transfigured themselves into a bipartisan choir. The hymn they sang was “God Bless America.”

I’ve been thinking this week about that tableau and wondering where the spirit on display went. “We are not enemies, but friends,” Abraham Lincoln reminded a divided nation in his first inauguration. “We must not be enemies.”

Today, Americans do not seem to be heeding the wisdom of our greatest president, a theme I will explore briefly in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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Numbers Show How President’s Tweets Drive News Cycle. Kalev Leetaru lays out the data.

Trump Expands Economic Pie. Kimberly Guilfoyle spotlights all-time-low unemployment figures for blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and women.

Joe Biden’s Iraq War Revisionism. Michael Tracey compares the Democratic front-runner’s comments today with those on record from 16 years ago, when he supported the U.S. invasion.

Is Trump the Cost-Benefit President? In RealClearPolicy, James Broughel applauds the administration’s approach to measuring costs and benefits of its deregulatory efforts.

EPA and the Merits of Granting Biofuel Waivers. In RealClearEnergy, Merrill Matthews analyzes the politics of the country's most politicized energy source. 

Buying Medications from Canada Not the Same as Importing Them. In RealClearMarkets, Allan Golombek explains that most medications purchased from up north originated with U.S suppliers.

South Korea and Japan Are Weaponizing History. In RealClearDefense, Roddy Howland-Jackson laments that old animosities between the two nations are harming efforts to address the North Korean threat.

What Can Be Done About the Toxic Buffalo Diocese? In RealClearReligion, A.A.J. DeVille asserts that a long pattern of sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups by the bishop must be addressed by Catholic Church hierarchy.

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Abraham Lincoln came to power in a nation already splitting apart, irrevocably divided over slavery. Although the first major battle between North and South, in fertile fields outside the Virginia town of Manassas, was only four-and-a-half months away, Lincoln still hoped to avert a civil war.

But that conflict had been a long time in building.

By 1856, the fighting between anti-slavery forces in Kansas and pro-slavery vigilantes from Missouri had escalated into a virtual border war. The region was known as “Bleeding Kansas.” In 1859, fiery abolitionist John Brown came out of Kansas to try and start a race war at Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

For the most part, members of Congress didn’t quell these passions or the lawlessness. If anything, they contributed to the carnage. Five years before Lincoln became president, pro-slavery South Carolina Democratic Rep. Preston Brooks ambushed anti-slavery Massachusetts Republican Charles Sumner on the Senate floor, nearly killing Sumner with a metal-tipped cane.

So that’s the other extreme from singing “God Bless America” together, but it wasn’t an isolated act. Attacks like that were common anywhere the debate over slavery was joined. Let’s be blunt about this: Violence was inherent in the very institution of slavery. It was the necessary ingredient for maintaining that evil institution. So it’s no surprise that its defenders were violent men. It was fitting, therefore, if tragic -- as Lincoln would also note -- that ending slavery on these shores would require “the scourge of war.”

But it’s fair to ask: What are we fighting about now? In our time, a congressman is shot and wounded on a baseball field by a hyper-partisan gunman intent on killing Republican lawmakers. A Kentucky senator is physically attacked in his own yard by another partisan Democrat. A mob gathers outside the home of Kentucky’s other senator to shout death threats. A California congresswoman mocks every American who voted for the president and encourages her supporters to harass members of the administration anywhere they can be found in public, to drive them out of department stores, restaurants, and even gas stations -- even to prevent them from sleeping peacefully in their own houses.

It took less than 18 years to go from singing hymns to this. It doesn’t seem sustainable. Abraham Lincoln foresaw this crisis, too. In an 1838 speech that helped make him a national figure, he inveighed against the perils posed to democratic self-government by mob action.

“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?” 28-year-old Abe Lincoln asked his audience in Springfield, Ill. “By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the Earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

Lincoln continued: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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