The Corner

Politics & Policy

Lewis Baits and Trumps Trump

John Lewis’s declaration that Trump’s presidency would be illegitimate was irresponsible. The proper response, after all, to such a usurpation is revolution, meaning overthrow by all means necessary. Lewis was saying something like that Trump is not really our constitutional leader, and even that his holding of power will be an offense against the Law of Nature and Nature’s God.

The truth is Donald Trump was elected president according to the forms established by our Constitution. He will deserve the respect accorded to anyone who holds that office.

That said, there’s no denying Lewis outwitted Trump by deploying Trumpian means. He knew Trump’s response to his outrageous comment would be so predictable.

Trump also might have at least googled the fifth district of Georgia which Lewis represents. It is, in fact, socioeconomically diverse. But it is also, overall, a pretty darn family-friendly place for prosperous young voters black and white (and others). It includes some of my favorite places in the world — such as the Decatur home of my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.

Many Lewis voters were also Sanders voters. And they sometimes should be faulted for regarding Lewis as immune from criticism because of his heroic status. He is sometimes guilty of self-indulgent exaggeration, and maybe he is ineffective these days. But he was a hero, after all.

President Obama is now repeatedly criticizing Trump for his disrespect for established institutions and traditions. And Trump might have responded, well, that’s what Lewis was doing, showing the hypocrisy of all those who want to wage guerilla war against him after he’s inaugurated.

Trump might have added a bit of praise for the heroes of the civil-rights movement in this weekend before Martin Luther King Day.

Overall: Trump missed the opportunity to be more of a gentleman than one of his critics. Instead, he showed Lewis could own his behavior — causing a response that could so easily be construed as ignorant racism.

My most controversial point? Trump is hopelessly naïve if he really believes he can govern without the assistance of the forms and formalities of constitutional liberty. Government by impulsive tweet isn’t going to work. He’ll be deposed if words are too transparently nothing but weapons in the state of (virtual) nature. He needs to show his opponents that the Constitution is now on his side.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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