Trump’s attack on John Lewis is the essence of narcissism
Michael Gerson has a very strong column in the Washington Post. It begins:
Who is John Lewis that Donald Trump should be mindful of him?
Lewis, by one definition, is a 76-year-old liberal politician with a disturbing habit of hyperbole. He questioned the validity of George W. Bush’s presidential win. He once compared John McCain to George Wallace. Now he questions the legitimacy of Trump’s presidential victory.
By another definition, Lewis was a consequential student leader of the civil rights movement. He led sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters; was one of the original Freedom Riders who integrated buses; experienced the hospitality of places such as Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary; and carried away the memento of a skull fracture from Selma.
It must be said that the whole business of questioning a president’s right to hold office is pernicious. It puts a hard stop on all civility and cooperation. The worst instance, of course, was the claim that Barack Obama was Kenyan-born and disqualified to be president — an argument based on partisan, conspiratorial and quasi-racist lies enthusiastically spread by Trump. When the president-elect calls out Lewis on this topic, it is a display of hypocrisy so large that it is visible from space.
A conservative friend tells me I’m too concerned about Trump’s “manners.” Probably. (Though it strikes me as odd for any conservative to dismiss the gestures of mutual respect that make democracy and human society possible.)
The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter. He will lead a nation that accommodated a cruel exception to its founding creed; that bled and nearly died to recover its ideals; and that was only fully redeemed by the courage and moral clarity of the very people it had oppressed. People like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. People like John Lewis.
There are a lot of debunkers at work in American society. They point out that the priest is really a balding, middle-aged man with sweat stains at his armpits. They see the judge as an old woman who has the remnants of lunch caught between her teeth. They see John Lewis as just another career politician. But the priest holds the body of Christ, the judge embodies the rule of law, and Lewis once carried the full weight of America’s promise across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Were John Lewis to call me every name in the book, I would still honor him.
Trump often justifies his attacks as counterpunching. Even a glancing blow seems to merit a nuclear response. But this is the exact opposite of the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, and of the principled nonviolence of the civil rights movement. In these systems of thought, the true victory comes in absorbing a blow with dignity, even with love. It is substance of King’s message. It is the essence of a cruciform faith.
This is not always easy to translate into politics. But . . .