Saturday, July 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He honored John Lewis as only he would.

Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a towering figure in the civil rights movement, died Friday afternoon at the age of 80. His passing was announced Friday evening, instantly setting off a wave of remembrances and tributes across the political spectrum.

Trump, meanwhile, was conspicuously absent. As is typical for him, Trump spent his Saturday morning and early afternoon golfing and tweeting. He lashed out at political enemies, including his former national security advisor John Bolton and his own niece, Mary Trump. Finally, at 2:05 p.m., Trump declared himself "saddened" by Lewis' death.

He also ordered federal buildings to lower their flags to half-staff—though he waited until mid-day to do it, and the order only lasted for the rest of the day. (Normally, that honor would have gone out immediately upon the announcement of the death of a sitting member of Congress.) 

Trump actually has quite a history of playing games with this kind of thing. He falsely claimed he gave permission for Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) to be buried with military honors—Dingell had earned that privilege by serving and Trump's permission was not required—then told a shocked Michigan audience that Dingell was in hell. He had to be forced to order flags lowered for Sen. John McCain, whom he hated. And when political pressure arose to fly the flag at half-staff to honor the first 100,000 COVID-19 victims, he timed it to overlap with the Memorial Day observance.

Lewis, often referred to in life as the "conscience of the Congress," infuriated Trump nearly as much as McCain. In December 2017, Trump lashed out at Lewis for being unwilling to honor "the incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history," because Lewis refused to attend the opening of a civil rights museum in Mississippi with him. (Lewis, who was beaten and nearly killed for his activism, was, of course, one of the leaders Trump accused him of not honoring.) Trump also attacked Lewis' wealthy suburban Atlanta district as "crime-infested," apparently on the assumption that this was true of any majority-minority district that elected a Black representative.

Why should I care about this?

  • There is a certain minimum level of emotional maturity presidents need to do their job.