by Marc Jampole
JOHN LEWIS said what a lot of us have been thinking: that Trump is not a legitimate president because of voter suppression laws in a handful of states that broke to Trump by micro-thin margins and decided the results of the Electoral College. The Georgia Congressional representative also implied that Trump delegitimizes himself with his behavior and language towards minorities, immigrants and women. Finally, Lewis rejects Trump’s vision for America as its putative symbolic leader for the next eight, four, two or one year(s) that he’s president.
When not trying to bully women or his campaign adversaries, Trump often takes off on figures with halos over their heads, people who both the religious and non-religious consider saint-like: A Gold Star family. The Pope.
And now John Lewis.
On both the factual and the symbolic level, Trumpty-Dumpty’s recent tweet attacking Lewis was as wrong as wrong can be. After mischaracterizing Lewis’ vibrant and relatively wealthy Congressional district as a crime-infested rat hole, Trump said “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”
John Lewis. No action?
On the factual level, the district itself belies Trump’s accusation that Lewis doesn’t spend time helping it. On the symbolic level, John Lewis epitomizes the man of action. Remember that when police officers and soldiers put themselves in harm’s way, they carry weapons and are willing to use them and, if American, they typically outnumber the other side.
But John Lewis went out to face the enemy with nothing but the courage of his conviction that peaceful disobedience was the most powerful weapon to achieve social, civic and economic justice. When he led the demonstrators across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama that bloody Sunday in 1965, he knew he was going to take a bad beating, and he took it. He took it for Dr. Martin Luther King, who didn’t march that day. And he took it for the civil rights movement. He took it for the entirety of the United States and for everyone who ever believed that the right to participate fully in society belonged to all men and women, regardless of their color, religion or condition in life. I’ve read the Gospels and a lot of history and I’m still not convinced that such a man as Jesus Christ ever existed. I definitely question the concept of a person suffering for the sins of the collective. But if there were ever a Christ-like human being, it was — and is — John Lewis.
The simplified form of the twentieth century philosophy called existentialism is “You are what you do.” By that measure, Lewis is an existentialist’s existentialist, the highest form of the man of action.
WHILE JOHN LEWIS has lived his life as the embodiment of true heroism, every public act of Donald Trump’s existence manifests the extreme narcissism and greed of a spoiled but very dull 4-year-old. While John Lewis has dedicated himself to the ideals of helping others, Trump and his cabinet of billionaires and multi-millionaires have dedicated their time on earth to selfish ends or to rolling back the gains made by Lewis and others to bring social and economic equity to all.
Some people are bemoaning that Trump is an accidental president, a product of a bizarre series of one-off events. Others blame racism and misogyny for the still hard-to-imagine horror of 60 million people voting for him. Still others say Republicans fixed the Electoral College vote with voter suppression laws. All of these explanations for why this ignorant loutish racist, who lost the popular vote by almost three million, still ended up president is enough to delegitimize his moral authority for John Lewis — and for tens of millions others, too.
Including me. Donald Trump may assume the office of the presidency in a few days, but he’ll never be my president.
On the other hand . . . if he would keep and extend Obama’s energy and environmental policies; fund infrastructure improvement with new taxes on the wealthy; veto all legislation that would end the Affordable Care Act or the individual mandate or cut funding to Planned Parenthood; come out in favor of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess; embrace the Iraq nuclear deal; advocate raising the minimum wage and lifting the cap on incomes assesses Social Security taxes; nominate Merrick Garland as Supreme Court justice; encourage parents to give their children timely vaccinations, stopped using Twitter to create prosecute personal feuds, stopped dissing our allies while praising Vladimir Putin . . .
In other words, if Trump acted presidential, I would consider him president.
Fat chance of that.
Marc Jampole is author of Music from Words (Bellday Books, for sale at our Pushcart). A former television reporter, he is a member of the Jewish Currents editorial board, blogs regularly (“OpEdge”) at our website, and writes frequently for our magazine.