welcomes as our guest Andrew Feinberg. Andrew has authored five
non-fiction books and is an award-winning freelance writer who has
contributed to the New York Tomes. The New York Times Magazine, GQ
He has also contributed over one hundred humor pieces
to the New York Times, Playboy and the Wall Street Journal, among
He has now authored his first work of fiction, Four Score and Seven.
The book's primary premises revolves around the “what if” scenario wherein Abraham Lincoln returns from the dead in the middle of the present 2016 election campaign?
Wouldn't that be something? What would he say and what would be his reaction be to the candidacy of Donald Trump? What ideas would he put forward to lessen the poisonous political polarization that prevails today in the USA?
Andrew has a thirteen-year old boy meeting Abe (by the way, Lincoln did not like being called Abe) in Central Park, New York on a clear December day. Henry Mason, who is the son of a Lincoln scholar, notices an elderly gentleman wearing a long black frock coat and a huge, black, silly-looking stovepipe hat. After preliminary introductions and brief conversations, Henry invites Lincoln to come with him to his apartment and meet his folks. You can well imagine the scene when Henry's folks and particularly his father are introduced to Lincoln.
As it turns out, DNA tests confirm the sixteenth president of the USA has undoubtedly returned from the dead but he only has two weeks to try and repair a screwed up political system. And as you can well-imagine when he learns that one of the presidential candidates is Ronald Crockenstock (a fictionalized version of Donald Trump) leading the Republican party, he has his work cut out for him. More so when he is informed that this candidate is someone who practices a very dangerous sort of alchemy turning his lies and hate into voter support. The people supporting him are not troubled as they know less than he does and he says everything very forcefully.
Norm: Good day Andrew and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you decide you were ready to write Four Score and Seven and particularly as a work of fiction?
strange thing happened last May. I picked up David Herbert Donald’s
one-volume Lincoln biography for the third time (I didn’t come
close to finishing it the first two times) and it changed my life.
I fell in love with Lincoln in a way I’ve never fallen in love with any political figure, living or dead. I immediately wanted to bring him back to life and after reading 25 more books about him I thought I might know enough to try to do it.
Norm: What are some of the references that you used while researching this book? As a follow up, it is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Andrew: Some of the most important books for me were Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills and Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan. I tried reading Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biography but I hated it. It has not aged well.
Certain parts of the book are clearly me. The Masons live on East 57th Street in Manhattan, pretty much where my wife, daughter and I do. Henry goes to a private school, as I did, but his is coed.
I have a 13-year-old daughter so writing about a 13-year-old is dear to my heart.
Like the Masons, my family was political but, unlike Henry, I never had any political ambition myself. And my father was a dentist, not a Lincoln scholar. So I tried to imagine how a smart 13-year-old would interact with a father who has been forcing Lincoln books on him since the age of 5 and quizzing him about Lincoln all the while.
That was challenging and fun and made me imagine having had a completely different childhood. Having a dentist father absolutely guarantees that Dad will never put his arm around you and say, “Son, let’s head to my office. There are some things I want to show you.” But it was a joy to imagine a completely different relationship—in every way—between a son and a father. And then I tried to imagine Henry making Lincoln into a second father. Given how beloved Lincoln is in America, that was somewhat easier to do.
Norm: What is the most important thing that people DON'T know about Abraham Lincoln, that they need to know?
Andrew: The most important thing many people don’t know is that Lincoln was both a great man and a great politician. He never told a lie and brought a dignity to politics that seems inconceivable given today’s toxic political environment. But he was a very crafty character and a few people found him unpleasantly cold and calculating. (They were in the minority.)
A simple example: When Lincoln decided to replace his first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, he allowed three of his Cabinet officers to believe they had convinced him to appoint Edwin Stanton. This made the men feel more important and more valued. (Lincoln probably would have made the same decision without any input.)
Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story? As a follow up, what would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read the book?
Andrew: I wanted to imagine a less cynical political world and have readers believe it could actually exist. Cynicism was rampant in the U.S. before Donald Trump, but now I fear it has reached ridiculous proportions. I wanted the villains of American politics—Trump, Cruz, the religious right, etc.—to receive their comeuppance in a humorous way.
The best reason to read the book is to be inspired that a Lincoln could still have a great impact on the nation today, although not necessarily in the ways you might imagine.
Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing the book and what has been the feed back up to now?
Andrew: Lincoln attacks some parts of the Bible in the novel—only parts that illegal or immoral—and I was surprised that a good friend was offended. “How can you tell people that something they’ve always believed is wrong?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “it’s already illegal so our courts are telling people it’s wrong.”
But he wasn’t satisfied. And it struck me that the interplay of faith and reason is very complicated today. For example, the fastest-growing religious group in America is the Nones—people with no religious affiliation. At the same time, though, America remains the most religious developed nation on the planet.
I think the rise of the Nones and the acceptance—at long last—that climate change is real by the leaders of the Republican Party will lead to a decline of religious influence in politics. I hope I live long enough to see the day when no politician can say with a straight face that something can’t be a problem because “God is still up there.”
Norm: For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?
Andrew: I encourage everyone to read David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.
More books have been written in English about Abe Lincoln than about anyone other than Jesus Christ.
Lincoln was heroic in three distinct ways. He is regarded as our best president, but let’s put that aside. He came from absolutely nothing. He had one year of school and his father, whom he hated, would sometimes burn his books because he thought Abe’s love of reading was a sign of laziness. And he suffered from a lifelong, unmedicated case of what we would probably call “depression.”
That he persevered and achieved so much seems miraculous. In a sense, his life is a kind of religious story.
Norm: If Lincoln were to return today, how would he handle a debate with Donald Trump?
Andrew: Lincoln would mop the floor with Donald Trump in a debate. Lincoln had a spectacular memory and he would be merciless, and funny, in skewering Trump with his own idiotic words. He would also set traps for him and bait him.
And, unlike Hillary Clinton, he would be able to contrast his unassailable veracity with the pathological lying of his opponent. Finally, he would ask, “If all of your arguments are so compelling, why do you have to lie all the time?”
Norm: What would be Lincoln's potential impact on the economy, if he were president today?
Andrew: On the economy, Lincoln would be an activist president---in theory, at least. He believed that the federal government should do for citizens what citizens could not do for themselves. He thought the government should spend money on infrastructure (called “internal improvements” in Lincoln’s day). We can’t know, however, how he would cope with a large national debt and sizable structural deficits. But he believed in trying new things and he absolutely believed in compromise—just not on the issue of the preservation of the Union.
Norm: What would be the most striking differences and similarities between Lincoln's foreign and domestic policies and those of Trump and Clinton?
There isn’t much to say about Lincoln’s
foreign policy. The one huge foreign policy goal of his presidency
was to keep England and France neutral—and he did that.
I see Trump as a kind of anti-Lincoln. He coarsens everything he
touches. He denigrates individuals and ethnic groups constantly. He
is vicious to women.Lincoln
never liked saying anything bad about anybody and his aides would
sometimes have to urge him to take revenge on political opponents,
but he would always refuse.
Trump is driven by the idea of revenge. Lincoln wanted nothing to do with it. Lincoln believed in science and would certainly believe in climate change. He didn’t live to see women get the vote, but I suspect he’d be able to cope with that development just fine.
Norm: Do you believe that the 2016 election is one of the most important in the history of the USA? If so, why?
Andrew: I think the 2016 election is the most important of my life simply because we’ve never had such a catastrophically flawed candidate and such a profoundly dangerous man this close to winning the presidency.
I believe Trump is mentally ill. I am embarrassed for my country that things have come so far—and I will fight like crazy against Trump’s election.
His authoritarian temperament and his affection for tyrants means there is a real chance that a President Trump would throw dissidents in jail. Certainly he and some of his followers are fans of violence. In a recent article in Harper’s, Martin Amis politely reminded us that if we voters make a mistake in November, our mistake might easily harm allies like Canada, the U.K., France, Germany and so on.
Norm: How do you explain the Trump popularity among a percentage of the US electorate?
Andrew: On Trump’s popularity: At a book event in Manhattan, a man came up to me and told me that Lincoln was his man, that he absolutely worshiped the 16th president of the United States.
Then he shocked me by saying he was for Trump. His reason: “I’m against all career politicians.”
Clearly, that explains some of what is going on. And that outsider Bernie Sanders came close to beating Hillary Clinton tells you that a lot of people are fed up. At least as important, though, is the fact that the Republican party has pursued a race-baiting strategy since 1968 and this is the year that the racists in the Republican party prevailed and nominated a racist of their own.
Norm: What are some ways in which you will be promoting the book and where can our readers find out more about you and Four Score and Seven?
Andrew: I’ve tried promoting the book by renting an Abe Lincoln lookalike and by publishing a lot of humor pieces related to this year’s election.
book is available on Amazon and many of my pieces are available HERE
Norm: What is next for Andrew Feinberg?
Andrew: I have started sketching outlines for a children’s book and a grown-up novel, but I will be spending many hours each day writing about Trump and, later, campaigning against him. I don’t want to wake up with a sick feeling on November 9 that if only I had done more we would not be facing the prospect of a President Trump.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Andrew: The one other question is what audience I had in mind for the book. Before I wrote the first chapter, I thought it was going to be a Young Adult novel. After writing a few pages, I scrapped that idea. Even though it is a comic novel, I wanted to look seriously at the issues of politics and religion in present-day America and I thought some young adults might not have the patience for that.
I still think a lot of 13-year-olds might like it, but there may be more politics and history than they’d really like to see.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors?