As I have sought to process the day’s big event, the funeral of civil rights hero/icon/legend John Lewis, I pondered the absence of one individual who one could have presumed should have been there.
Donald J. Trump was not in Atlanta today to pay tribute to John Lewis, the former congressman and human rights activist who died at age 80 of pancreatic cancer. Oh, no. Trump was in Washington, tweeting messages seeking to undermine the voting rights gains for which Lewis fought, and bled.
It’s becoming something of a “new normal” in this Age of Trump as president of the United States. He was disinvited to the funeral of U.S. Sen. John McCain. Trump attended the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, but we didn’t hear a word from him. Now, the Lewis funeral. Trump declared he had no intention of honoring Lewis while he lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
I thought about past funerals of high-profile political figures. I recalled the presence of President Lyndon Johnson at the funeral of a man he hated beyond measure, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. I remembered the funeral of President Richard Nixon and recalled one of the tributes paid to him by President Bill Clinton, who told us that we must not judge his predecessor’s public life by just one episode, but by its entire history. I remember, too, when former Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower patched up their bitter differences while attending the funeral of their successor, President John F. Kennedy. The two old war horses realized in that moment that life was too short and too precious for them to continue hating each other.
Donald Trump clearly would not have been welcomed at John Lewis’s funeral. He once chided Lewis for supposedly being “all talk and no action.” Trump ignored the beatings that Lewis endured while seeking to guarantee the rights of black Americans to vote in free and fair elections.
So it fell to three of Trump’s predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — to speak of their friend and a man who will be remembered as a legend in his own time … and beyond.
Donald Trump? He was left to sulk in the background.