Trump refuses to pay respects to Rep. John Lewis at rotunda

The casket of Rep. John Lewis is in the Capitol rotunda, where he is lying in state, in tribute to the civil rights icon. Many are paying their respects. But one is not.

“No, I won’t be going, no,” Trump told reporters when asked if he planned to attend. Read story here.

Lewis became a civil rights activist at an early age. In 1961, at age 21, he was one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders,” was the first to be assaulted by angry whites, and like the others was arrested and thrown in jail. The Riders, who were trying to integrate intercity bus service in the south, were beaten with bats, chains, pipes, and pelted with stones; and Lewis, who was knocked unconscious, thought he was going to die.

Lewis became a leader in the civil rights movement, and continued his activism. He was involved in, among other things, attempting to register black voters. He led marches, and at age 25, he was severely beaten again by southern police acting as enforcers of segregation, on “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Again, he thought he was going to die. His skull was fractured, and he bore scars for the rest of his life.

But that didn’t stop his civil rights activism — it never stopped — and he eventually was elected to Congress, representing a district encompassing Atlanta, Georgia, where he served for 34 years until his death, championing civil rights causes to the end.

Trump offered no specific reason for snubbing the Capitol rotunda tribute to Rep. Lewis. Trump did say, upon Lewis’ passing, that he was “saddened” to hear the news, and “Melania and I send our prayers to he and his family.” His press secretary said, “We lowered the flag here at the White House.”

Vice President Pence, in Miami, said he plans to attend and pay respects when he returns to Washington D.C.

There has been bad blood between Trump and Lewis in the past; Lewis called Trump an “illegitimate” president (I don’t agree with that characterization; Trump’s election victory was certified by the House of Representatives, which under our Constitution makes him president, and legitimizes it), and Trump retaliated by calling Atlanta, Lewis’ home city, “crime-infested.” Atlanta has (or had, before Covid) a thriving economy and is widely considered a leading example of modernity in the “New South.”

Lewis’ status as a civil right icon might have something to do with it. I don’t know. I think Trump is a racist. He notoriously called the Charlottesville neo-Nazis “fine people,” has defended Confederate flags and statues, sought to block renaming military bases named after Confederate heroes, has called BLM protesters “thugs,” and responded violently to George Floyd protests (including peaceful ones). So it’s entirely in character for him to snub a hero of the civil rights movement amidst a resurgence of demands for black equality and an end to police violence against blacks.

In any case, Trump could have used this as an opportunity to dampen criticisms of his attitude toward racial justice, by honoring a black civil rights hero. He didn’t. That’s either bad politics, or petty meanness. Maybe both.

Photo: Getty Images

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    When you are President you don’t attend the funeral of a Congressman who called for your impeachment.
    Now Andrew Jackson would have shown up and given Representative Lewis the middle finger. So maybe Trump is more politically astute about todays politics than the father of the Democratic party.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Most people are bigger than that. Haven’t you ever attended the funeral of someone you didn’t especially care for, from a sense of social obligation? It’s about civility and respect. We need more of both. Trump isn’t good at either of those things. I sincerely hope you’re better.