Opinion: Trump didn't bother to honor John Lewis

The president couldn’t bring himself to show respect for an honorable legacy.

In one of the darkest days of the Trump presidency — and, yes, the competition remains fierce for Trump’s ultimate diei horriblis — it looked briefly as if Cory Gardner might have caught a break.

Hours before John Lewis’ funeral Thursday — on the day when three former presidents came to eulogize the great man and civil rights icon (Carter, at 95, could not safely attend) — Donald Trump tweeted his typically fact-free, early-morning message that mail-in ballots would mean a rigged election. I’ll spare you Trump’s Twitter assault on the English language, but not Trump’s insult to John Lewis’ legacy, which included a broken skull on the Edmund Pettus bridge, 40-some arrests when demonstrating for civil rights and voting rights, and the resulting passage of the Voting Rights Act that, sadly, the Supreme Court has hollowed out.

Trump didn’t show up to the funeral because he’s a small man who thinks he’s always the hero of the story. He didn’t go to see Lewis’ body lie in the Rotunda for much the same reason. It was the John McCain situation all over again, another insult to American history. It was the Dr. Fauci opening-day-first-pitch situation all over again, another example of Trump’s unmasked jealousy when anyone even briefly steals his spotlight.

But, seeing his chance, he threw out his news-maker kicker to his morning tweet, floating the idea that we should delay the Nov. 3 election until it could be made, uh, safe. The idea was so outrageous that McConnell, Cruz, Rubio, McCarthy, et al immediately denounced it without, of course, denouncing Trump himself. It was what Joe Biden had predicted months ago to much ridicule. How dangerous is Trump’s proposition? In 1942 during World War II, FDR said postponing an election would mean “we have become fascists ourselves.”

For Gardner, the broad disapproval gave him cover to weigh in. He pointed out that mail-in voting works fine in Colorado and that the election will not, under any circumstances, be postponed. He, of course, did not mention Trump either. His opponent in November, John Hickenlooper did, of course, and noted that Gardner’s Trump avoidance “is another facet of how to maintain silence — this kind of cowardly silence about so much of what Trump has said and done.”

I’m not a fan of the Trump-Twitter-distraction theory — I mean, was it in the cause of distraction that Trump was retweeting the sleeping-with-demons doctor? — but in this case, it was almost certainly meant to take eyes away from bad news of the economy’s record shrinkage, accompanied by worse news, in that most economists seem to think it will be a long while before the economy truly starts to recover.

No one really knows what Trump was thinking with his tweet — during Lewis’ funeral, he was tweeting about pizza — armchair psychology on Trump is for a far slower news day. For now, there is unavoidably real life. For now, tens of millions of Americans are looking at a $600 cut in their unemployment checks.

[pullquote-1-center] An extension of the $600 add-on is opposed by most Republicans — including Gardner — because, well, you can go back to Mitt Romney’s 47-percenters speech. These senators, who apparently don’t live in anything like the real world, think people are failing to go back to work because their unemployment checks are too fat when, in fact, they’re not going back to work because the jobs aren’t there, because the kids are still at home, because the health risk is seen as too high.

Republicans want to cut back the $600 to $200, even as many economists say Congress must go big on stimulus. The $600 unemployment add-on — Gardner favors $200, Hick $600 — is life-saving stimulus. The Washington Post contacted 25 economists for their reactions to the GOP’s slimmed-down response to a still-reeling economy, and 20 said Congress needs to go at least $2 trillion big. Instead, the GOP took months to come up with an unserious plan, and the Senate went home for a long weekend leaving millions to wonder how to pay the rent, how to pay for groceries, how to get by.

As Hickenlooper reminded me, Gardner once proclaimed that it was “unfathomable” for the Senate to recess without resolving the issues. That was on May 20, more than two months ago. I don’t know what’s beyond unfathomable, but that’s where we are today.

And now, Trump is apparently giving up on the hard work of trying to negotiate between his $1 trillion stimulus and the House’s $3 trillion package, saying let’s just send “payments to the people” and protect them from being evicted.

“The rest of it, we’re so far apart, we don’t care,” Trump said. “We really don’t care.”

The Lincoln Project and presumably Democrats will jump all over the “really don’t care” part of the quote. And why not?

It’s the economy that Trump has botched, because, first, there was the COVID-19 crisis that he has so grossly botched. Despite what Trump says, we trail every other rich country in dealing with COVID-19. And we lead the world with more than 150,000 deaths.

And for those of us who watched the Lewis funeral, we saw the third leg of our national crisis, the one that Trump has taken to inflaming. In his eulogy, Obama apologized for bringing politics to a funeral, but it was John Lewis’ funeral and, as Obama knew, he would have wanted no less.

This was the Obama that many Democrats have been waiting for. He didn’t use Trump’s name either, but he didn’t have to. He drew a clear line from Bull Connor to the police killing of George Floyd, a clear line from Jim Crow to modern-day voter suppression, a clear line from George Wallace to Trump himself.

As Obama said, “Bull Connor may be gone, but today, we witnessed with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans. George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators. We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in the jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s gonna be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick…”

He went on to say that we can’t expect people to do all that John Lewis did, but that we must all do “something.” Part of that something, he suggested, would be ending the filibuster, which he called a “Jim Crow relic,” resuscitating the Voting Rights Act, installing automatic voter registration, a restoration of voting rights for those who served their time in prison and on and on. All of that, of course, depends on a Biden victory and Democrats retaking the Senate.

The sharp contrast between the last three presidents — Bush and Clinton also spoke eloquently — and an absent, Twitter-addicted Trump was more than striking. Many who watched the funeral wept.

Those Republicans who could stand to watch must have shuddered. Biden is running on a return to normalcy. Trump is running on a return to Trump. And, on the day he was laid to rest, you could hear John Lewis making his choice from the grave.

Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.