“It’s frightening to have someone in the office of the president in 2018 speaking the way that he’s speaking,” the civil rights legend told Katie Tur on MSNBC on Friday.
Lewis was one of several U.S. and international leaders who condemned Trump’s comment in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers Thursday. Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries, and slammed proposals to restore protections for their immigrants, most of whom are black. He wondered why more people from places like Norway weren’t immigrating to the U.S.
Lewis called it “unreal” and “unbelievable” to “hear the president of the United States of America saying something like this.” He added: “We’re one people, we’re one family. We all live in the same house, the American house. I don’t think language like this is in keeping with the future of our country, the future of the planet.”
He said Trump’s “words and his actions tend to speak like one who knows something about being a racist. It must in his DNA, in his makeup.”
Lewis said the president “must be a leader. He must be a headlight and not a taillight.”
Lewis plans to skip the president’s State of the Union address Jan. 30 because, he said, he cannot in “all good conscience” be in the same room with the president “with what he has said about so many Americans. I just cannot do it. I wouldn’t be honest with myself.”
When Tur asked what Martin Luther King Jr. would say to Trump if he were alive today, Lewis, who marched with King during the civil rights movement, responded: “Mr. President, wake up. You need to do what is right. You need to do what is fair. You need to be a little more human. And respect the dignity and the worth of every human being. And stop putting people down because of their race, their color or their nationality.”
Lewis clashed dramatically with Trump shortly after he won the presidential race when the congressman questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s victory in the face of Russian interference in the election. Trump shot back, calling Lewis’ Atlanta district “crime infested.”
In December, Lewis refused to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum because Trump’s planned attendance and his “hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed,” the congressman said in a statement.
Trump’s “disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants and National Football League players disrespect the efforts” of civil rights leaders, he added. Trump gave a 10-minute speech at the museum during the opening, which was also boycotted by several other civil rights leaders.