Rob Reiner: Trump represents last 'battle of the Civil War'
© Daniel Swartz

The last shots of the Civil War rang out in 1865, but director Rob Reiner believes the election of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE represents the final gasp in the war among the states.

“The way I look at it, if you are trying to take an overview — the holistic approach — we are fighting the last big major battle of the Civil War,” Reiner said Monday evening at a D.C. screening of his new film, “LBJ.”

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“There’s only been two times in the history of America where upon the election of a president, the people en masse took to the streets,” Reiner said. “One was Abraham Lincoln, and the other was Donald Trump. And for obviously, you know, 180-degree different reasons, but both based on race.” 

Reiner’s movie, starring Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Johnson, shows the 36th president’s rise to the White House and his struggle to pass the Civil Rights Act, navigating the contentious politics of the 1960s in search of a compromise.

The director hopes the public will be able to learn something about the fight for civil rights from the film, which has no scheduled release date yet.

“It’s a long, hard struggle, and it takes a lot of heavy lifting from a lot people to get it done,” Reiner said.

The outspoken Democratic activist and fundraiser took to Twitter during the presidential campaign to disparage the then-GOP-nominee as a “racist misogynist.” Trump’s election, he said Monday, “puts things in very stark relief” for those who imagined the U.S. was a post-racial society.

“To me, the scariest part of what we saw with Donald Trump was not understanding how much racism still existed in this country. It was kind of papered over for a while,” he said, putting 2016 in historical context.

“I mean, we had the Civil Rights Act, we had the Voting Rights Act and then in the ’70s we had ‘All in the Family’ started shining a light on racial unrest,” the actor, who became famous as the show’s “Meathead” liberal son-in-law, continued. “And then we had a lot of enormous success by African-Americans in the media, in the news and so on. And then culminating with an African American president.

“So we thought, OK, we are moving in the right direction, everything is moving. But what we didn’t realize that this undercurrent of racism was still there, virulent and kind of down, suppressed.”

Now, Reiner says he blames the media for the normalization of Trump’s message, citing his first major interview after the election on “60 Minutes.”

“I don’t know if you saw Leslie Stahl last night. It’s embarrassing,” Reiner said. "It is embarrassing that somebody who has a national platform would softball this moron. He’s a moron.

“And that man is in the White House now, and the press normalized him. They normalized him for a long, long time. And that’s a disgrace.”

Among those in attendance at the National Archives screening of “LBJ” were many members of Johnson’s family, including his daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb. Reiner said her opinion was the only one that mattered to him that evening.

Harrelson, aided by prosthetics in his depiction of Johnson, said he developed a new appreciation for LBJ’s legacy and efforts.

“He was a guy who wanted to see a better world,” the actor said of his fellow native Texan.

Sponsors of the event included the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, which supports the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, and Ovation, a television network committed to promoting art and artistic expression.

LBJ Foundation Director Amy Barbee, like Reiner, stressed the importance of using history as a guide to the present.

Barbee said Johnson often said, "Come, let us reason together."

Johnson Robb at that moment shouted out from the crowd, "Isaiah said it first."

"Yes, Isaiah said it first, but President Johnson said it more often," Barbee responded.