“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, (1940-2020)
Today in Atlanta, three past presidents will pay the nation’s respects to a giant of American history. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will be on hand as President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy for Rep. John Lewis, whose exemplary life of self-sacrifice and peaceful, persistent activism paved the way for America’s first Black man to run the White House.
President Jimmy Carter, who is 95, will not attend, but sent remarks to be read during the service.
“John never shied away from what he called ‘good trouble’ to lead our nation on the path toward human and civil rights. Everything he did, he did in a spirit of love,” Carter said.
The current president, who does everything in the spirit of self-love, will not attend the funeral. Like the funerals of Sen. John McCain and President George H.W. Bush, Donald Trump is not welcome at Lewis’ send-off and doesn’t want to be there, anyway.
The President of the United States is not welcome at the funeral of one of the greatest Americans who ever drew breath. And he’s fine with that.
Trump refuses to pay his respects to Lewis because he has no respect for anyone, not even for himself. A man with even a trace of self-respect does not shame himself and his country with infantile behavior and unfathomable incompetence, does not dismiss the deaths of 150,000 Americans from an infectious disease he downplayed and still doesn’t take seriously and does not undermine the nation’s top epidemiologist while promoting a quack doctor who believes medicines are made with alien DNA and that serious reproductive diseases are the result of “dream sex with demons.”
A president with any self-respect would warn Russian “President” Vladimir Putin to stop paying bounties to terrorists who kill American soldiers. Trump said it “didn’t come up” in his chat with Putin last week. “The call was about other things,” Trump said. Maybe the “other things” included postponing the looming presidential election, a preposterous lead balloon our desperate president floated in a tweet this morning.
No president, not even one who sees himself as a God/king, can do that. Even his shameless servants in Congress can’t give him that. We are about to find out which is stronger — the Constitution or Cult 45.
I know what side John Lewis would stand on.
Lewis stood up for all Americans on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and got his skull cracked for daring to walk as a free man. Trump refused to stand up to a foreign dictator paying bounties on the heads of American soldiers on the telephone. Lewis lived the courage of his convictions. Trump has no convictions, no courage and no shame.
Trump’s defining dream is to steal the respect history pays its greatest heroes, to be revered without the hard work such glory requires. Lewis earned his place in history by making it, by demanding justice for others at his own expense. By demanding better from himself.
There was no self-pity in John Lewis. Self-pity defines Donald Trump.
Lewis’ last words can be read (and listened to) in a New York Times op-ed he asked to be published on the day of his funeral. It is an eloquent, inspiring call to work hard for justice with grace, humility and respect for others, even when we disagree. Read it here, and try to imagine Trump writing (or monotonously reading from a Teleprompter) even a single sentence of it.
Instead, Trump does all he can to seed disunity, distrust and disdain in the nation he swore an oath to serve. On Wednesday, after dismantling an Obama-era fair-housing rule, Trump tweeted:
“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”
If you don’t speak dog-whistle, let me translate: “Vote for me and I’ll keep nasty Black, brown and poor people from invading your affluent, lily-white neighborhoods!”
The contrast between these two men could not be more stark. Both are consequential. One is contemptible.
John Lewis was and is a giant who sacrificed blood and bone to make America and the world a kinder, more dignified, more just place. Donald Trump is and will forever be a troll willing to sacrifice American lives, liberties and aspirations on the grimy pyre of his empty, carnivorous soul.
Even from the grave, Lewis is the better man, and should have the last word. It is no surprise he used it to inspire the John Lewises yet to rise in these troubled times:
“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”