Trump’s Attack on Congressman John Lewis

by James M. Wallmarch-cover

President-elect Donald Trump posted several insensitive and ill-informed tweets against Congressman John L. Lewis on the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. 

The tweets displayed an ignorance of the facts about both Lewis’s history of public service, and of the 5th congressional Georgia district Lewis has served since 1987. 

They also displayed an indifference to a time when the nation pauses to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, our next president acted with a naughty child’s petulance over a congressman’s questioning of his election victory.

If Trump’s staff and family allow him to keep his personal Twitter account, we can only assume our next president will display that same unfettered ignorance and insensitivity, for four years, through January 20, 2021.

What led to Trump’s attacks on Lewis? Marlee Kokotovic reports on the site Nation of Change that in a television interview, Congressman Lewis said, “I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open democratic process.”

Lewis added that he would not attend the Friday inauguration.

In an UPDATED list released Tuesday morning (January 17), Politico Huddle identified  
 40 House Democrats who have announced they won’t attend the inauguration Friday, many “in protest of Trump’s weekend Twitter attacks against Rep. John Lewis”.

The Democrats who have announced they will boycott the inauguration are: Reps. Karen Bass, Don Beyer, Earl Blumenauer, Brendan Boyle, Anthony Brown, Judy Chu, Katherine Clark, Yvette Clarke, Lacy Clay, Steve Cohen, John Conyers, Mark DeSaulnier, Keith Ellison, Adriano Espaillat, Dwight Evans, Marcia Fudge, Al Green, Raúl Grijalva, Luis Gutiérrez, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Ted Lieu, Jerrold Nadler, Chellie Pingree, Marc Pocan, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Raul Ruiz, José Serrano, Kurt Schrader, Carol Shea-Porter, Darren Soto, Mark Takano, Nydia Velazquez, Maxine Waters, Bonnie Watson Coleman and John Yarmuth. 

Donald Trump might have avoided some of these no-shows had he avoided attacking Lewis, and then pointed out that his election is legitimate because the Electoral College counted the votes of each state and declared it to be so. 

Instead, Trump displayed both his immaturity and his inability to grasp just how inappropriate his attacks on Lewis were, by attacking Lewis on the weekend prior to King’s birthday.

I know from personal experience how a temporary lack of maturity can expose anyone. As a young pastor in Georgia, I joined friends and family of a parishioner gathered in a living room. I engaged in a few words of banal social chit chat with the lady of the house. 

Another church member finally turned to me and said, “You know why we are here, Reverend, her husband has just died”. Of course I knew it. 

I mumbled a few words of condolence and sneaked away, permanently scarred with the dark memory of a moment when I failed to be present to others. 

Donald Trump, in a far more significant moment, was not present for the nation he will soon lead. He attacked a civil rights icon on this King weekend.

We have seen no sign that he is even aware of the immaturity of those tweets. The only sign is a negative one; he canceled a Monday appearance at an African-American museum.

It was early Saturday morning when Trump attacked Lewis for not “taking care of his crime infested” district, a false statement which reveals a racist bias. In his petulant anger, Trump did not bother to find out that crime in Georgia’s 5th district has fallen by 30 percent in recent years.

The New York Times reported the language of Trump’s tweets:

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.” 

A second tweet added, “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results,” he added. “Sad!”

For the record, Georgia’s 5th Congressional District includes parts of wealthy Atlanta areas like Buckhead; the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

johnlewisAnother web news site, Newsmax, shared more on Lewis, writing:

Lewis is among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement and devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans. He suffered a fractured skull while leading the march in Selma, Alabama more than a half century ago.

“The tweet is unnecessary, it’s unfortunate,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who is African-American, said on MSNBC. He added:

“John Lewis has a walk that very few people in this country — least of all Donald Trump — have ever walked. So you have to respect that and pay attention to that.” 

Of course, the degree to which Russia interfered in Trump’s election will need to be examined by appropriate agencies and individuals. The Congress should act according to our established laws to respond to that alleged interference.

That, Mr. President-to-be, is known as civility in the way this nation is governed by its laws.

Trump has demonstrated no ability to curb his self-absorbed Twitter impulses. His family and staff have shown no indication they will remove his tweets from his daily schedule.

If Donald Trump really wants to lead this nation, he could spend his Twitter time in a more important task, reading about its history.

He could start with three volumes of a graphic novel entitled March. Civil rights leader John Lewis is one of its award-winning authors.

In a New York Times (November 17, 2016) book review of March, Julian Lucas traced John Lewis’s literary contribution to a history in which he played such an important role. 

There are few people better qualified to remind us of what democracy really looks like than John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and, most recently, the author, with the writer Andrew Aydin and the artist Nate Powell, of a three-part graphic memoir called March.

A galvanizing account of his coming-of-age in the movement, it’s a capsule lesson in courage of conscience, a story that inspires without moralizing or simplifying in hindsight. 

The trilogy’s title is season, setting and imperative: March begins and draws to a close with scenes from the march Lewis led in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, forever known as “Bloody Sunday” after state troopers and the local police attacked the nonviolent  protesters. 

The opening panels depict the marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then move from their tense, prayerful faces to the phalanx of billy clubs and white helmets on the opposite bank. Lewis, then only 25, was beaten that day; five months later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

The three volumes of March (the second won an Eisner Award at Comic-Con, and the third won this year’s National Book Award for young people’s literature) aren’t just a record of Lewis’s activism but one of its brilliant examples, designed to help new generations of readers visualize the possibilities of political engagement.

If an unfettered, emotional indifference to facts by our next president is to be our fate through January, 2021, then each false, damaging Trump tweet must be exposed for what it is, an outburst directed at anyone whose opinion or action fails to pour praise into his  self-esteem bucket.

It is that bucket that could plague us for the next four years. Unfortunatelyas the folk song puts it, “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.”

The picture of Congressman Lewis is from the site, Nation of Change.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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4 Responses to Trump’s Attack on Congressman John Lewis

  1. MIKE MATARWE says:

    We cannot all be Barak Obama

  2. oldkahuna says:

    I watched a TV documentary about Donald Trump. One thing he learned in his family was that someone always wins and someone always loses. He learned to ALWAYS be the winner. This was because the loser in his family was always attacked and humiliated…and Donald hates to be humiliated! So he, psychologically, MUST “win.” We’re in for a LONG and tedious four years!!!

    I would hope that there was a way to remove Donald’s cellphone, just as Obama was pushed into giving up his Blackberry!!

  3. Janet Gunn says:

    My own words escape me, so let me return to Yeats and the poem he wrote for the calamitous opening of World War I. We seem once again to “slouch toward Bethlehem.”

  4. lgeorgepomo says:

    Learned “Hole in the Bucket” at church camp when I was about 10. Never dreamed it would apply to an insatiable President-elect, but it’s a great metaphor–thanks, Jim!

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