Rep. John Lewis is a civil rights icon, a man who almost gave his life to make this a better, more equitable country. He has been a leader in strengthening black-Jewish relations for decades, and he has been a strong advocate for Atlanta in general and his 5th District in particular.
He’s also human and has his flaws. We were disappointed when he skipped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress about Iran’s nuclear program in March 2015, just as we disagreed with his vote this month against a nonbinding House resolution criticizing U.N. Resolution 2334.
Lewis was wrong to declare that he doesn’t consider Donald Trump a “legitimate president” in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” a week before Trump’s inauguration, just as it would have been wrong for Trump to refuse to accept the election’s outcome if he had lost. Besides, it’s demeaning to American voters and gives the Russians too much credit to argue that Trump won the electoral vote because of Russian interference.
We also wish Lewis had chosen to attend the inauguration. As of Friday, Jan. 20, Trump is our president. If he stumbles, we all will suffer.
But Lewis is well within his rights to skip the inauguration and to refuse to work with the administration. If his actions don’t reflect the will of his district, his constituents will have the opportunity to let him know in 2018. That’s representative democracy in action.
Similarly, Trump was within his rights to unleash a Twitter storm on Lewis and Atlanta in response to the congressman’s comments, but Trump’s action was much worse. While Lewis is just one of 435 members of the House, Trump’s actions reflect on all of us.
First, Trump was slanderously inaccurate to accuse Lewis of being “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.” Lewis walked the walk in the 1960s. He practiced the principles of nonviolence when he marched across a bridge in Selma and when he rode a bus as a Freedom Rider. We wish Trump had a record of self-sacrifice equal to one-tenth of Lewis’.
Second, Trump showed a frightening ignorance about Atlanta and Lewis’ district, a diverse, thriving area that, in addition to including most of Atlanta, incorporates Toco Hills, Emory University, Georgia Tech and the world’s busiest airport. Our new president hasn’t shown the most commitment to accuracy in his tweets, but dismissing the value of one of America’s great cities on the weekend when the nation marks the birthday of its greatest native son, Martin Luther King Jr., is just, as Trump would say, sad.
Atlanta will be fine no matter how many nasty tweets Trump sends our way, however. What’s most alarming about Trump’s Twitter tantrum is that, even two months after winning election to the most important job in the world, he still shows no interest or ability to rein himself in.
Here’s how he responded to wide-ranging criticism of his attack on Lewis: “Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!”
Atlanta isn’t burning. It isn’t crime-infested. But, yes, the new president can use all the help he can get.