A week that featured the charge that President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a bigot, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — who’s shown a “disdain for the civil and human rights of racial and ethnic minorities” — to serve as his Attorney General has ended with yet another table setting moment less than a week from the start of Trump’s presidency.
On Friday, Trump was stung by the greatest living hero and the exchange is likely to set the tone for those who are planning to resist him politically.
“I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told NBC’s Chuck Todd when asked whether he would attempt to work with President-Elect Trump. “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be very difficult,” Lewis added in a soft voice that always sounds reverential. “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”
“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis said, quietly rolling a verbal political grenade into an already explosive landscape of suspicion surrounding Trump’s electoral victory over Hillary Clinton. Lewis again pushed to the forefront a discussion that the president-elect has desperately been trying to bury.
Clinton received 2.8 million more votes than Trump. The New York real estate developer who made his entry into politics on the back of a birtherism lie against the first African-American President will now enter the White House as the most disliked newly elected President in Gallup polling history.
What Lewis said focused on what is now the largest political elephant in the room: the question of whether Trump’s presidency is legitimate. Trump is working quickly to label all reporting he doesn’t like “fake news.” Lewis used his unquestioned power as a moral leader to say something publicly that’s on the minds of many but that few have said out loud.
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The Twitter-happy President-elect’s reaction to Lewis was predictable.
“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. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” the President-elect wrote in two tweets on Jan. 14.
Lewis, who became a leader by acting truth to power and not just speaking it, was the hero of several crucial civil rights moments, the most important of which was Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. Trump avoided the Vietnam draft via four deferments for college and another for bad feet.
In a landscape crowded with people who talk, tweet and write about injustice, Lewis actually took action against it and risked his life doing so. The next president who built so much on talk and branding has again proven himself incapable of self-control on the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday.
The incident is more proof that it will be a busy four years for Lewis and others involved in civil rights advocacy. This week, Lewis was again in the position of prophetic moral leader as he testified against the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. “We have come a distance. We have made progress, but we are not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back,” Lewis said.
At the same hearing, the new Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) admonished Senators for having Lewis on the last panel of the nomination hearings. “Having us testify at the end of this session, is equivalent to sitting at the back of the bus,” Richmond told them in a confrontational style.
Several of Lewis’ colleagues, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), have stated they will not attend Trump’s inauguration. They are far from alone as the list of names of members of Congress piles up days before the controversial 45th President of the United States will be sworn into office.
Many members appear to be using the opportunity to make a statement against Trump, proving in history once again that John Lewis is contagious.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a writer and political analyst. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke