Why Trump’s John Lewis Tweet Was Implicitly Racist

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The Sacrifice for Freedom


George Payne

A graduate of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, George Payne teaches philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College and is the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International.

Why Trump’s John Lewis Tweet Was Implicitly Racist

Given Donald Trump’s gag reflex for pettiness and racial insensitivity, it is ironic that U.S. Representative John Lewis has much in common with the President-elect.

Lewis criticized George W. Bush for his handling of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions; he disagreed with Bill Clinton on NAFTA, denounced the 2000 trade agreement with China, and switched support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama in 2008. If not for Trump’s dismal track record on social and economic justice, the two men could find ways to work with one another.

But, the two men cannot work together.

After Lewis questioned the President-elect’s alleged collusion with the Russians during the November election, Trump fired back on Twitter: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

On paper the Congressman’s resume should make him untouchable.

Born John Robert Lewis in Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940, the civil rights icon was a Freedom Rider in 1961, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, the spiritual leader of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, one of the main architects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the driving force behind the 1970 Voters Education Project, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient in 2011. Since being elected to the House in 1986, he has been called by both Democrats and Republicans the “conscience of Congress.”

But apparently none of this matters to Mr. Trump. Rather than address Lewis’ concerns as an American hero and well respected member of government, the President-elect went straight to his comfort zone, which always consists of pugilistic attacks, racist based assumptions, and juvenile rationalizations.

For starters, the 5th district in Georgia is not “infested with crime.” In fact, Lewis’ district is 40 percent college graduates. Eighty-seven percent graduated high school. The median household income is $48,017.

The 5th district is home to fortune 500 companies such as Coca- Cola, and Delta Airlines, as well as prestigious institutions such as Georgia Tech, Emory University (my alma mater), and Morehouse College; it is also home to the vitally important Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, why would Trump say this area is in horrible shape? Why would he say that it is falling apart? Is Trump assuming that this area is poor, crime ridden, and failing because it is predominantly black? How else can we parse his uninformed and obnoxious Tweet?

Moreover, regarding Lewis’ legacy as a Congressman, Trump is way out of line when he says he needs to do more to help his constituents. Lewis has created jobs, and economic growth in Atlanta. He has decried injustice everywhere, especially against the LGBT community. He has worked his entire life to end poverty, defend social security, and use nonviolence to resolve conflict and establish real change. He has been on the forefront of the effort to combat the Zika virus. He has been vigilant when our veterans have needed him most. He has invested in smart growth, competitive business, tax relief and rights for workers in Georgia, and all over the world.

Since he first heard Dr. King’s sermons in the mid 1950s, John Lewis has been serving his country with courage and hopeful audacity.

Trump, on the other hand, has yet again disgraced himself in public, by slandering the reputation of a highly respected person of color without any justification.

Shameful. Just shameful.

When I was growing up, my mother and father and family members said, ‘Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.’ I got in trouble. I got in the way. It was necessary trouble.
— John Lewis

George Payne

UPDATE: This article was also recently printed in the 1/19/17 Fairport-East Rochester editions of the Messenger Post.

Today (1/17), in “The Lord of Misrule” (NYT) David Brooks cites the Lewis tweet as a classic Trumpian assault.

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David Brooks, New York Times, 1/17/17

Wednesday (1/18), in Retweeting Donald Trump (NYT),  Thomas Friedman offered the Lewis Tweet he would have welcomed.


Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 1/18/17


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