I read this recently in an editorial: “[Mr. Trump] looks downward to the uneducated, unenlightened, and vicious for inspiration and or guidance, and not upward to the intelligence and virtue of the republic. He follows the lowest strata of public opinion … Let us return to the Constitution and banish into outer darkness the superficial demagogue whose jesting, jibing tongue, amid our awful sorrows, betokens the presence of a buffoon and something worse.”

But wait. I fudged that a bit. In fact, those sentences were written not about Donald Trump at all but about … President Abraham Lincoln. They appeared in the New York World newspaper in August of 1864.

Lincoln was widely vilified in his day (and not just in the South) as being crude, tyrannical, power hungry, and ignorant … all adjectives that some of us use today to describe Donald Trump. My point? Certainly not that Trump and Lincoln are equivalent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But it is instructive, isn’t it – and humbling – to see how our opinions, even when we believe them to be solidly based on truth, even when we hold them with the purest of motives, may be viewed as misguided by later generations.

Winston Churchill probably didn’t say, “History is written by the victors,” but someone did, and while one could reasonably argue that that assertion isn’t entirely true, there’s enough truth in it to inform and humble our reading of historical accounts.

Similarly, Napoleon is understood to have said, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” Even a quick perusal of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” (also flawed, but telling) convinces us that many of the animating myths about our country (often understood as history) are not based on fact. The common view of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony is a good example in that almost none of it is true. The actual picture, and the actual relationship of the settlers to the indigenous people, is much darker.

In the end, our opinions and views must be grounded in the deepest soil of our conscience, and we must hold them with “fear and trembling,” always aware that we may be wrong … or, at the very least, that we may be viewed as wrong by our successors.

Civilization, it seems to me, rests on that tender and sharp fulcrum where certainty and doubt are balanced. Too much certainty and our stances become rigid and brittle. Too much doubt and they waver with every breeze. It takes courage to make a stand, all the while holding the knowledge of our own flawed natures.

I will stand against Trump and Trumpism as well and for as long as I can, but always with the tincture of humility that keeps me honest. It’s the best I can do. I can only hope that Trump’s supporters would find it within themselves to do the same. That common humility, or the lack of it, is all that stands between us and the abyss.

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