He couldn’t resist. He just couldn’t resist. Within minutes of being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump’s itching Twitter fingers could not resist weaving an unveiled personal attack on civil rights icon John Lewis into his first speech as president.
Just seconds after reminding the nation that the “Bible tells us, "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity", President Trump could not resist saying that, “we will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action”. Just a week earlier he infamously and recklessly attacked Congressman Lewis’s decision to boycott the inauguration by tweeting that Congressman Lewis was “all talk, no action - Sad”.
Granted, the “all talk, no action” language is nothing new. Then a presidential hopeful, candidate Trump used this precise language in ads and on the stump for over a year on the campaign trail. But this was not just campaign language. Whatever the controversy, the election is over and won. This was a specific attack on a civil rights legend on the weekend when all Americans were called to memorialize the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Junior, Congressman Lewis’s personal friend and co-laborer in the struggle for justice and equality.
There are many who have weighed in on one side or the other of the feud between Congressman Lewis and President Trump. Some quickly defended Lewis. Others took objection to Rep. Lewis saying that he did not see President Trump “as a legitimate President”.
But there is one thing about which everyone should be perfectly clear. Unless you faced dogs, hoses, batons and tear gas all for the sake of the freedom and human rights of all people and lived to tell the story, you need to sit down somewhere, and show some respect.
The fact that any human being alive, let alone a man who has ascended to the highest office in the land could even position their Twitter fingers or purse their lips to attack John Lewis is beyond the pale.
Is it possible that President Trump’s campaign and cabinet appointments may have caused someone like Congressman Lewis to find disturbing parallels to his struggle for civil rights in the 50s, 60s, and 70s?
Is there anything about, say, Jeff Sessions for example, that would cause a man like John Lewis to question Trump’s judgement or his legitimacy as the leader? Might he know the activists whom then State Attorney Sessions prosecuted on voter fraud charges just as black voters began to gain a measure of political power in the South? Would Lewis not stand with Coretta Scott King who also challenged the legitimacy of Jeff Sessions saying that he, “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and threaten elderly black voters"?
Is it possible that a man who was literally beat in the head by racist police officers and who lived through the racially adaptive policing strategies of “law and order” during the War on Drugs might take issue with Donald Trump’s calls for “law and order”? The immortal words of Rep. Lewis’s dearly departed friend and fellow freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer must surely come to mind. Hamer said, “black people know what white people mean when they saw law and order”.
Might all of the confederate flag waving, alt-right and KKK endorsing Trump supporters cause a man like John Lewis to seriously question whether he and his people are part of Trump’s vision for America?
Or could it be that Rep. Lewis, as someone who was himself surveilled by his own government is alarmed that President Trump has welcomed a man into his cabinet as his national security advisor who has said that the Muslim faith is a cancer and who has supported a national registry for Muslims?
Could it be that Rep. Lewis simply agrees with House Speaker Paul Ryan that Trump’s attack on Mexican judge Curiel (for which he has still not apologized) is the textbook definition of racism?
It should come as no surprise that a man who has seen our country’s worst days of hatred and fear would question the legitimacy of a man whose campaign willfully resurrected the absolute worst of that hatred and the worst of those fears.
From his pioneering work in organizing nonviolent resistance, to that tragic “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmond Pettis Bridge in Selma, to his role in expanding and developing greater Atlanta, the legacy of John Lewis will forever be cemented in our history as a nation. Instead of disrespecting an elder in the civil rights movement and in American history, perhaps President Trump should focus on not further imperiling his own place in American history.
Or maybe he, Melania and the kids could just go watch Selma or something. The rest of us will be out here trying to protect and build upon the rich legacy of great American heroes like Ella Jo Baker, Fannie Lou Haimer, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and yes, the Honorable John Lewis. President Trump would be wise to respect himself, his children, our country, and the office of President enough to do the same.