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#MemeoftheWeek: What Would Honest Abe Really Think Of Politics Today?

Abraham Lincoln trended on Twitter this week. Wait, what? Honest Abe proved what's become a hipster creed: Everything old becomes new again.

Friday would have been the 16th president's 207th birthday — as good a time as any to bring him back with a party hat on him (like the House Republicans did):

There were also memes of Lincoln holding pizzas, stereos and cellphones. But the memes also quickly became about the presidential candidates, with the hashtag #ThingsLincolnDidntSay. Talk about putting words in someone's mouth.

Some used the hashtag to criticize candidate Bernie Sanders, and his calls for economic equality:

This one used Lincoln's mug (modified) to hit at Donald Trump's comments last month that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."

And then there was the commentary on politics in general:

It's no secret that Americans are disappointed by today's political climate. A recent survey found about 1 in 5 Americans says he trusts the government, way down from 77 percent in 1964.

The political posts around #ThingsLincolnDidntSay were all over the political spectrum but had one thing in common — they sarcastically brought back the voice of Lincoln as the honest politician who would be horrified at today's political climate.

But in reality Lincoln, whose honesty is the stuff of legend, was at the center of a remarkably polarized political climate when he was president. That perhaps shouldn't be a surprise given that the country was split by a civil war during his presidency. Lincoln was elected having won less than 40 percent of the popular vote.

He is celebrated for keeping the nation together — of course that's no small task for a president — but it came with significant political backlash. As the Civil War magazine Hallowed Ground estimated, Lincoln's approval rating was likely around 25 percent, based on huge losses the Republican Party experienced in local elections after he was sworn in.

All that to say, if Honest Abe were to show up to Saturday night's presidential debate or followed the rhetoric on the campaign trail today, he might just feel right at home. And maybe there's another lesson:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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