In words that were both very specific and sometimes more veiled, Obama announced that Lewis’s protracted battle for racial equality was continuing, and explicitly stated that power today was working to undermine it.
He ticked off issues such as removing the filibuster, making Election Day a national day off from work, and allowed former prisoners to vote as elements for action for a society that intends to become fairer.
And he proposed the very actions taken by the current president – who avoided personal memories of Lewis, even though three of his four living predecessors made the trip – undermined representative democracy.
While Trump is paying for a re-election campaign that relies on racist tropes and a vague notion of a “legacy”
“America was built by John Lewis,” Obama said. “He, like everyone in our history, has brought this country a little closer to our highest ideals. And one day, when we end this long road to freedom, when we make a more perfect union … John Lewis will be the founder. of this fuller, fairer, better America. “
It is the type of remembrance that marks the passage of a nation’s history, provides an account of its highest and lowest moments, and sets a marker for the type of person – the type of hero – deserving of the country’s attention and respect.
“When you see something wrong, you have to say something. You have to do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act and each generation must do its part to help build what we have called the Beloved Community. , a nation and a world society at peace with itself, “he wrote, recalling his own lessons from King.
“It’s so appropriate on the day of his service, he leaves us our marching orders: Keep moving,” former President Bill Clinton said at the funeral.
“He has encountered very good problems along the way, but let’s not forget that he has also developed an absolutely unusual ability to cure problem waters,” Clinton added. “He thought an open hand was better than a clenched fist.”
Although not at all unexpected, the absence of the presiding president on Thursday remains apparent.
Remembering the characters was once something Washington could agree with. But maybe, like so many, it’s an idea from another moment.
As obvious as it was, Trump’s decision to refuse to pay his respects – which he said emphatically even before his aides considered the pros and cons – was still a stark reminder of the cloudless polarized era of politics he presides over.
He continued to divide the racial divide that Lewis spent his life working to overcome. As the country evaporated earlier this summer under racial tensions and an outbreak of police brutality, Trump sharpened to the rhetoric of the 1960s, which would not have been unknown to Lewis, who was beaten and bloodied by police during the civil rights movement.
As Trump provoked “vicious dogs” to restore order and used a phrase coined by a racist police chief in 1968 to warn that “when looting begins,” Lewis encouraged protesters to continue the work he had begun. decades ago.
Comparisons with a darker era that many had hoped to have faded were explicitly praised by Obama.
“George Wallace may not be, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful protesters,” he said, referring to the governor of Alabama’s segregation, who is running for president. solid right platform in 1968.
It is difficult to imagine how these messages or this envoy would fit into Lewis’s funeral. Yet political leaders have long since set aside even their biggest differences in the memory of those few lives that can be said to have changed history.
“John and I had our differences, of course,” former President George W. Bush said at a funeral Thursday. “But in America, John Lewis has fought, and in America, where I believe, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and proof of democracy in action.”
Obama-Lewis vision for America
Speaking in 2015 at the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Memorial in Selma, Alabama – an event that united Republicans and Democrats – Obama seemed to predict an era of White nostalgia that would become a patriotic litmus test under Trump.
Citing marches like Lewis, which were beaten by state troops as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery to demand the right to vote, Obama said it was true patriotism – a stark contrast to Trump, who described the protesters as non-American and intent on erasing history.
“It means loving America. It means believing in America,” Obama told participants, adding later, “It’s America, not commodity photos or air history or weak attempts to define some of us as more American. like the others. “
He repeated some of these topics on Thursday, citing Lewis’s example as a role model.
“That’s where the real courage comes from – not by turning to each other, but by turning to each other,” Obama said. “Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by accepting those responsibilities with joy and perseverance. that in our beloved community we do not walk alone. “
This vision of America is not necessarily shared by Obama’s successor, who uses monuments and statues, including those of Confederate generals, as a re-election rally.
Both men ruled during intense racial divisions: Obama complied with racially charged protests in Missouri and Maryland during his second term, and Trump is now facing ongoing unrest and protests over recent police killings.
It is always unlikely that Obama will turn down the opportunity on Thursday to raise again the issues of racial inconsistency that continue to grip the nation.
In his speech, Obama listed a series of points that he said would make voting fairer and ensure that every American was secured: restoring the Voting Rights Act, allowing ex-prisoners to vote, adding polling stations, making Election Day a federal holiday and allowing Washington, DC and Puerto Rico to have full representation in Congress.
He also called for the abolition of the filibuster, a Senate rule that allowed the minority to defer legislation and that Obama called a remnant of Jim Crow.
Obama has used funerals in the past to make horrific speeches on race – especially in praise of the murdered pastor of the church in Charleston, which ended with a song of verse “Incredible Grace.”
And while he openly attributes the possibility of his election to predecessors like Lewis – “I was only there because of the sacrifices he made,” Obama said he told Lewis when he took office – he is also frank that neither the fact that he he was not elected, nor were his efforts during his service sufficient to combat the still existing racial divisions.
“Thanks to him, we all now have our marching orders – to continue to believe in the possibility of making this country we love until it fulfills its full promise,” Obama said in a statement after Lewis’ death earlier this month.
Almost every other U.S. political leader in Washington, including Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, along with Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden, paid tribute to this man. week in some way.
Trump posted a short message on Twitter after the death of the civil rights leader and ordered flags flowed: “We are saddened to hear the news of the passing of civil rights hero John Lewis. Melania and I are sending our prayers to him and his family,” he tweeted. .
It did not go unnoticed that his Twitter account of the late TV presenter Regis Philbin, who also died recently, was nearly three times longer.
In an age of intense political rifts, Trump’s decision to avoid Lewis’s funeral is not surprising. Lewis refused to attend Trump’s inauguration in 2017 and declared him an illegitimate president. Trump later said that Louis should focus on improving his area, calling it “attacked by crime.”
When Trump announced unequivocally that he would not travel to the Capitol to pay his respects, some aides were taken out of custody because the issue was not resolved internally, an administration official said.
Trump’s dissatisfaction with remembrance rituals and the tradition of people he dislikes is well established. While he has an affinity for some of the dormers in his work, the president has little patience with his rituals when they do not revolve around him. Aides said they had little interest in bringing Trump to places he clearly wanted and could become a distraction.
He showed similar disdain – and sometimes open hostility – to those idolized by most of the Washington establishment, at least in death. He was not invited to a funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral for Senator John McCain, which was praised in place of two former presidents, George W. Bush and Obama.
Instead of attending this funeral, Trump played a round of golf and, according to aides, succumbed to the attention and dislike of being mounted on one of his listed names. He later complained that McCain’s family never thanked him for approving certain aspects of the service.
The only funeral Trump has attended for former President George W. Bush remains the only time he has come face to face with his living predecessors since taking office. The meeting, at least in terms of the appearance of the video footage, was icy.
This month, Trump removed portraits of the younger Bush and Clinton that hung prominently in the White House and moved them to a room used to store tablecloths and unused furniture.