This morning, watching television coverage of John Lewis’ funeral procession through Washington, D.C., I heard the Rev. Al Sharpton say, “‘Make America Great Again’ means pre-John Lewis.”
That’s exactly right.
I was moved when Lewis’ hearse passed down Black Lives Matter Boulevard, over the bright yellow “Black Lives Matter” mural on the street. I’m so glad that Lewis was able to stand on that very street, on that very mural, just a few weeks before he died.
As the procession moved away, you could see the White House in the distance. I could imagine Trump inside, grumbling because, once again, Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights had eclipsed his reality-show attempt at a presidency.
I’ve written about this before. Long ago, it seems — before Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Lafayette Square, family separations at the border, COVID-19 — I wrote about this same thing.
Is This What MAGA Means?
When Donald Trump started his travesty of a presidential campaign so long ago — in 2015 — he tossed out his asinine…
I’m even more convinced today. Trump and his followers long for a day when the American economy was unstoppable and the White middle class was growing. Of course, World War II funded that era; that’s probably why Trump refers to it as “beautiful.”
But the post-war years were also a moment of social retraction. Women filled wartime jobs, only to get relegated back to the kitchen when men returned from the war.
Blacks who had migrated out of the South for wartime jobs also got unseated.
And Black soldiers who had fought against racism overseas came home to Jim Crow prejudice, segregation, and violence, not just in the South but across the United States.
The post-war years in America were decidedly White.
Those are the years that Trump pines for, years in which his family could discriminate against Blacks in rental properties. Years when poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation could prevent Blacks from voting, thus insuring White dominance of politics. Years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed job discrimination, when Whites could still dominate the workplace with impunity.
John Lewis was the antithesis of all that.
When he saw injustice, in got in front of it. When he heard of inequality, he spoke out. When he talked about getting into “good trouble,” he meant it. And his body showed the scars.
One of the most iconic photos of the Civil Rights era is of Lewis getting clubbed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the voting rights march through Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
John Lewis was optimistic about the future. He looked forward, not back. Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” looks only looks backward. It wants to recreate a moment that is, thankfully, long past.
In the 55 years since the Edmund Pettus bridge moment, John Lewis saw much change. Immediately came the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He saw the number of Black representatives and senators in Congress grow dramatically. This Congress, the 116th, is the most diverse in the institution’s history.
He saw America’s first Black president. He saw Whites march with Blacks in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
John Lewis’ optimistic vision of America is playing out. Trump’s reactionary vision is not.