But no president since the Civil War has been more uninterested in the rhetoric of healing and unity than Donald Trump. It is difficult to express how deeply repugnant his effort to politicize this space is to commonly held American ideals. The display of tanks near the Lincoln Memorial is just a bitter and expensive absurdity compared with the co-option of Lincoln’s temple for the personal aggrandizement of a man who celebrates political violence, who proudly calls himself a “counterpuncher,” and who regularly tweets insults calculated for maximum divisiveness. In the long arc of Trump’s public career, there isn’t a shred of evidence that he understands who Lincoln was, what he stood for and how he accomplished it.
The Mall is a place of public reconciliation. Although originally conceived as a wide avenue in Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the city, the Mall and its surrounding parks were configured in the early 20th century as a grand symbol of national reunification, centered on a monument to Abraham Lincoln, the man who led the country through civil war.