Dahleen Glanton: When it comes to honoring John Lewis, Donald Trump was no hypocrite
We should thank Donald Trump for skipping Congressman John Lewis’ farewell ceremony.
While his absence from the memorial in the Capitol rotunda on Monday was glaring, Trump did us all a favor by leaving town. To pay respects to a man for whom he showed so little regard in life would be disingenuous.
Trump might be a liar, but at least he is no hypocrite.
Unlike Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump did not stand over Lewis’ casket as he lay in state and quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He did not try, as Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Dan Sullivan did, to pretend like he had a good relationship with Lewis by tweeting photos posing with Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Black congressman who died in October.
When it came to honoring the civil rights icon, Trump was perhaps more honest that he ever has been. He did not attempt to represent himself as anything other than what he is — the antithesis of Lewis.
We should be truthful as well. No one wanted Trump there — and he knew it.
So let’s stop ranting about how he disrespected Lewis’ legacy by tweeting two generic sentences offering condolences to the family. No one is shocked that Trump had more to say about the passing of TV host Regis Philbin than the man who helped change the course of America.
The president would have been expected to say a few words at the event, attended by a small bipartisan group of Washington politicians and dignitaries. But anything he said would have been a lie.
As soon as he stepped away from the podium, we would have blasted him the way we did McConnell for acting as though he supported Lewis’ political positions. It was sickening to hear McConnell repeat King’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” though he is actively blocking a bipartisan bill to restore voter protections the U.S. Supreme Court removed from the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The landmark bill came about as a result of the life’s work of King, Lewis and other civil rights champions.
There is no reason to believe that Trump would even sign the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act into law. He is convinced that millions of fraudulent voters are on the rolls. He supports strict voter ID requirements and less access to mail-in ballots, making it harder for minorities to vote.
Trump had nothing to gain politically by acting as though the loss of a congressional Democrat mattered to him. By no means does it suggest that he felt no sympathy for the 80-year-old congressman, who died from pancreatic cancer, and his family. It just shows that for Trump, politics transcends death.
This is the latest example of Trump’s dangerous race-based reelection strategy putting him in a precarious position. Even if he had wanted to visit the Capitol over the two days Lewis’ body lay in state, he could not.
It is no secret that white nationalists have infiltrated Trump’s base. Such a display of honor toward a man who devoted his life to fighting racism would not bode well with that part of Trump’s constituency. If he has any chance of being reelected in November, he needs racists to turn out in force.
Shortly after Trump’s election, Lewis said he believed that Trump could learn something by participating in his annual march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. But he would not invite him.
Anything Trump said about Lewis beyond those two short sentences he tweeted would have been fabricated. It would have been worse than saying nothing.
Consider what happened Tuesday when Attorney General William Barr paid tribute to Lewis in his opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee.
He called Lewis an “indomitable champion of civil rights and the rule of law” and then went on to defend Trump’s deployment of federal officers into cities to bring law and order.
Lewis likened the use of troops on protesters to the fire hoses used on civil rights protesters in the 1960s.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called Barr out by pointing to the fact that neither Barr nor his two predecessors brought any African Americans in top staff positions with them.
“That, sir, is systematic racism. That is exactly what John Lewis spent his life fighting,” he said.
“And so I would just suggest that actions speak louder than words, and you really should keep the name of the honorable John Lewis out of the Department of Justice’s mouth.”
The same goes for Trump.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.