EX-PRESIDENTS HONOR CIVIL RIGHTS ICON — AND SWIPE AT TRUMP
Obama the most forceful as he invokes Southern racists of the past in his eulogy
Three ex-presidents took swings at President Donald Trump in eulogies for John Lewis on Thursday, with Barack Obama offering the strongest rebuke as he invoked Southern racists of the past and pledged to “fight even harder” for voting and other rights Trump is attacking.
They spoke the day after Trump made a race-based appeal for suburban votes and hours after his reckless threat to delay the election, throwing the incendiary notion out there as part of his drive to prevent mail-in ballots and question the results if he is defeated in November. He has no power to postpone the election.
All these interrelated issues, said and unsaid, intersected as tributes flowed for Lewis from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Republican George Bush and Democrats Bill Clinton and Obama all spoke, while a letter of condolence from the fourth living former president, Democrat Jimmy Carter, 95, who stayed away because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was also read at the service.
Lewis, the civil rights giant and a 17-term House member from Georgia, died on July 17. Trump did not pay his respects when Lewis lay in state at the U.S. Capitol, and that sadly speaks for itself.
Lewis spent years in a quest to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which ended up on the National Mall; Bush signed the bill authorizing it on Dec. 16, 2003.
“Listen, John and I had our disagreements of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action,” Bush said, drawing an obvious contrast to Trump.
“We the people, including congressmen and presidents, can have different views on how to affect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation, however flawed, is a good and noble one.”
‘Open hand was better than the clenched fist’
Lewis, said Clinton, “when he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.”
No former president used Trump’s name. Obama, the first Black president, is increasingly more direct in taking on Trump.
“Bull Connor may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” Obama said.
“George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” Obama said. He was referring to the infamous sheriff and governor and alluding to federal agents clashing with protestors in Portland.
“... But even as we sit here, there are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”
Lewis, said Obama, “devoted his time on this Earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we are seeing circulate right now.”
Trump’s latest dog-whistle came on Wednesday, when on Twitter and in a Texas speech he crowed about voiding an Obama fair-housing rule. Trump needs suburban Republican voters who took a chance on him in 2016 and likely won’t give him the benefit of the doubt in 2020.
“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood . ... Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down,” Trump tweeted.
At the same time, Trump is stepping up his battle against mail-in ballots, claiming, with no proof, massive fraud will take place as voting by mail gains in popularity in this COVID-19 era. Trump is doing this to give him room to question the election results and perhaps to distract from his handling of the pandemic.
The unleashed Obama called for passing the new version of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, automatic voter registration, adding polling places, expanding early voting, letting more ex-cons vote “and making Election Day a national holiday.” In a controversial move, he called for the Senate to end its 60-vote antifilibuster rule if that’s what it takes to pass civil rights laws.
The lesson Lewis leaves us, Obama said, is “real courage. … Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth.”
Former President Barack Obama delivers a eulogy Thursday at Rep. John Lewis’ funeral.
Former presidents Bill Clinton (left) and George W. Bush (right, with former first lady Laura Bush) also gave eulogies on Thursday.