John Lewis plays with matches, Trump ignites inferno
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There are people who, because of the magnificent achievements they have accomplished in their lives, we always expect to conduct themselves with the highest degree of integrity and wisdom.

One such person is Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

And there are other people who, because of the high office they occupy or are about to occupy, we expect to conduct themselves on a much higher plane than they might have done in the past.

One such person is President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE

After the dust-up between the two of them this past week, I guess it’s back to the drawing-board for the rest of us.

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It began with Lewis, a Democrat who has now served in the House of Representatives for thirty years, representing much of the city of Atlanta. The phrase “civil rights icon” is practically part of his proper name, because of the work he did and the sacrifices he made — up to and including suffering physical beatings — during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.

On Friday, NBC News released a clip of an interview with Lewis, in which he said, “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” He went on to say: “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz: 'Too many politicians are being subject to criminal prosecution' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE.”

Everyone has a First Amendment right to express opinions, including members of Congress. Still, it is startling to hear a Congressman, and particularly one of Lewis’ stature, say that our next president will not be legitimate.

Of almost three hundred and twenty million Americans, only 537 are elected to serve in Washington, D.C.: 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 senators, and the president and vice president. It’s therefore very significant when one of our elected officials offers the opinion that our next president will not be legitimate.

At the time of this writing, more than 40 Democratic elected officials have said they will join Lewis in boycotting Trump’s inauguration on Friday, but none have publicly endorsed his claim that the new president will be illegitimate.

My own opinion is that Lewis’ remarks were ill-advised and unwise. It is impossible for Lewis to know, with any significant measure of certainty, whether or not “help” provided by Russians was the crucial, decisive factor in Trump’s victory.

We cannot run the 2016 election over again in a laboratory, eliminating all the alleged interference from Russia, and make an objective, scientific observation as to who the winner would have been.

Lewis, with all due respect, is merely guessing who would have been the winner. Statements denying the legitimacy of our next president should not, I think, be based on nothing more substantial than a guess—especially when those statements are made by a respected member of Congress.

Some will say that Trump denied the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency with false claims that President Obama was not a natural-born US citizen. That is true. But, when Trump made those false claims, he was a reality TV personality, not a US Congressman; no serious person took his claims seriously.

Moreover, we’re all told as children that two wrongs don’t make a right. Trump was wrong to make his false claims about Pres. Obama; Lewis is unwise to make similar claims, grounded only on guesses, about President-elect Trump.

After Lewis made his statement, Trump responded almost instantaneously. But, did he say something to the effect that he disagrees with Congressman Lewis’ conclusions about Russian hacking, but he respects the Congressman’s First Amendment right to express his opinion? 

Of course he did not.

Some people believe in turning the other cheek; Trump, in his own words, believes in counter-punching. And counterpunch he did.

In response to Lewis, Trump fired back a couple of tweets:

 

This is not the kind of response one would expect or hope for from the man who said he “will be president for all Americans.”

Atlanta is part of America, and the people who live there are included among all Americans. How would Atlantans feel after hearing our soon-to- be next president characterize their city in such a negative, dismissive, and even insulting way? Less than a week before his inauguration, Trump should know better than to use that kind of language to characterize a city with almost a half million residents.

Moreover, as a member of the House of Representatives, Lewis really has no direct responsibility for “fixing” Atlanta’s crime problem, and he does not have the powers necessary to accomplish that task. He is not the mayor of Atlanta; nor is he the city’s police chief. He doesn’t run the city’s courts or its jails. It is something of a cheap shot for Trump to blame Lewis for things he cannot control.

Putting aside the substance of Trump’s tweets, there is the additional issue of simple, ordinary politeness. John Lewis will be 77 years old next month. He is revered as a hero of the civil rights movement by millions, including millions of black Americans.

These people, too, are among “all Americans” whom Trump has said he wants to represent.

It is not a good sign for the future that an ill-advised, unwise statement from Lewis would stimulate such an ill-tempered, mean-spirited response from President-elect Trump. We are entitled to expect better from both men, and particularly from the man who, a few days from now, will be occupying our highest office.

David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the New York state bar. He currently resides in Cary, North Carolina, and has published pieces on the Social Science Research Network and in The Times of Israel.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.