What Donald Trump said about John Lewis

Watch Trump’s interview with journalist Jonathan Swan on Axios on HBO:

The section on the late civil rights activist John Lewis begins at the 35:23 mark, right after Trump says he has done more for the African American community than Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed into law both the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). This interview apparently took place on the day Lewis was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump says he does not know how history will remember John Lewis. Of course Trump could have said that Lewis will be remembered as a member of the Nashville Student Movement, a freedom rider, an activist who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or a member of the House of Representatives who fought for civil rights. But he said none of these things. Why? Because Trump cannot conceive of Lewis’s contribution to American history outside of how it intersects with his own presidency. He is incapable of seeing himself as part of a larger story of the American past because he knows that his presidency, like all presidencies, is just a small part of a long narrative. If Trump thinks historically it will make him feel small. As I have written before, his failure on this front is the essence of narcissism.

Within seconds of Swan’s question about Lewis, Trump notes that the Georgia congressman chose not to attend his inauguration. As we will see, Trump simply cannot get past this talking point.

Swan asks Trump if he finds Lewis to be an “impressive” man. Trump responds: “I can’t say one way or the other; I find a lot of people impressive, I find a lot of people not impressive.” Trump then repeats the fact that Lewis did not come to his inauguration and adds that Lewis did not come to any of his State of the Union speeches either. For the record, Lewis refused to come to these events because he did not believe Trump was a legitimate president:

Trump says that “no one has done more for Black Americans than I have.” He again notes that Lewis did not come to his inauguration. This time adds: “he should have come, I think he made a big mistake.”

Trump finally admits that Lewis devoted “a lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights,” and then adds, “but there were many others also.” When asked if he would “support” renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis, Trump responds: “I would have no objection to it if they’d like to do it.”

Many have called Trump a racist who does not care about African-Americans. Trump disagrees with this. He believes that the economy raises all boats, including those of Black Americans. Of course now that that the economy is in the tank, and COVID-19 is here, Black Americans are suffering at a much higher rate than White Americans. Why? As evidenced from Swan’s interview, Trump is not interested in this question. In the end, he has allowed revenge and payback to get in the way of celebrating one of our greatest heroes. It shameful. But it is also what we have come to expect in the Trump presidency.