John Lewis is right. Again.

John Lewis is ripped from his seat at a whites-only lunch counter in Nashville, 1960.

When black students took their seats at a whites-only lunch counter in Nashville, they jolted leaders in both the white and black communities. Nashville in 1960 carried a well-deserved reputation as a racially liberal Southern town. Black establishment figures were hard at work through legitimate channels to secure equal rights from the courts. These students were stepping out of line, risking their futures, and complicating other civil rights efforts with their disruptive moral stand.

Half a century after John Lewis stepped past that whites-only sign to take his seat at the lunch counter, he now occupies a seat in Congress. Older, wiser, a member of the authority structure he once challenged, Lewis is doing it again.

In a move that channels the philosophy and tactics of the civil rights era, John Lewis this week openly denied the legitimacy of the incoming administration and refused to participate in the inauguration ceremonies. His stand is more than symbolic. Lewis is cutting through the subtleties and evasions, initiating a critical moral division likely to define and harden the fight against the Trump administration.

In the 60’s, lunch counter protestors were attacking segregation on two philosophical fronts. First, they were issuing a shock to the comfortable, apathetic middle. Attacks they endured and the arrests that followed ruined the cherished assumption of justice for all in their community, forcing people to take sides on a volatile issue they would prefer to ignore.

Lewis and colleague Jim Zwerg after being beaten in Montgomery on a Freedom Ride, 1961.

Watching peaceful, dignified students beaten and arrested for the simple act of sitting at a lunch counter gave lie to common assumptions about the nature of segregation. Being confronted with these scenes stripped away the community’s sense of moral distance. White citizens who hadn’t devoted a moment’s thought in their entire lives to the meaning and impact of Jim Crow, now found themselves forced into a morally charged cleaving of allegiance. Their willingness to suffer injustice and indignity burned down the middle spaces in which ordinary people, black and white, felt free to live out their lives in carefully cultivated denial.

This mirror effect was on full display in Lewis’ protest last week. Had his comments been ignored or met with a measured response, his words would hardly have registered. Instead, Trump himself took to Twitter to play the bully yet again. Thanks to Lewis’ courage Trump spent the MLK holiday weekend demeaning a national civil rights hero.

That act of exposure at the Nashville lunch counter fifty years ago created a second, more serious problem, one that demanded a remedy on an urgent timeline. By taking their rightful place at the lunch counter in defiance of “southern customs,” they were also challenging the fundamental legitimacy of law and cultural norms. Lewis referenced that philosophical problem specifically in his comments about Trump this week.

Lewis is beaten by police during a voting rights protest in Selma, 1965.

A challenge to legitimacy is a challenge to civilized order itself. That challenge must either be quickly resolved in favor of justice or suppressed, but it cannot be ignored. A society premised on laws can tolerate much, but it cannot survive a morally persuasive challenge to the legitimacy of its laws.

Lewis’ challenge then and now sparks a heated response from the middle, and not merely because it strips our comforts. By issuing a direct challenge to the legitimacy of our system, he is challenging our capacity to use law itself to remedy this situation. Just as he did as a student in 1960, Congressman Lewis has strapped a time-bomb beneath the more patient efforts of others to “work within the system” to remedy injustice.

Again, it is helpful to look back at the factors that made Lewis’ actions so controversial in the black community in 60’s. Protests like these posed a serious problem for black leaders. The protestors knew that they would be arrested. Having an arrest record was a grave matter for anyone, a blot on one’s character. For the cream of the black community, having its most promising, elite college students embrace “lawless” behavior was a threat to the community’s future.

Those already heavily invested in the fight for civil rights, represented primarily in the NAACP and similar groups, saw promise in the patient pursuit of court victories. They had already won legal victories tearing down housing segregation and school segregation. They were actively fighting through the system to establish the basic right to travel and participate in commerce.

At the level of public opinion, efforts to win justice through court actions hinged on their portrayal of obedient black citizens patiently petitioning for their rights at law. After twenty years of sustained effort, younger activists were growing restless. Each new legal victory by law-abiding black citizens was blunted, evaded, and finally dismantled by white authorities bound by no such scruples. Gains achieved by law-abiding blacks through the legitimate channels of the law were ignored or actively undone by the active resistance and even violence in local white communities.

Segregated seating on buses had been ruled unconstitutional years before, but cities all over Tennessee still retained the illegal practice. Nashville restaurants were under no legal requirement to segregate patrons by race. Segregation in that form was not a law. It was a custom. In other words, the efforts by the NAACP and other groups to challenge unjust laws were valid and right, but by themselves they would never have changed conditions on the ground. Lunch counter protestors were not arrested for violating Jim Crow laws. They were arrested, often after being assaulted by whites who were never prosecuted, for crimes like “disturbing the peace” or “disorderly conduct.” “Legitimacy” had become a weapon leveraged by the white community against peaceful blacks seeking to exercise their moral rights.

While some groups fought to win rights through legitimate channels, Lewis and other protestors were demonstrating the fundamental moral illegitimacy of the entire political structure, including the police and the courts. That protest proved far more potent and dangerous than anything that might ever have been achieved in court. John Lewis sacrificed his education, his career, and his even his body to expose the lie of legitimacy that protected Jim Crow.

He is doing it again.

Our faith in the power of our legitimate democratic institutions to enforce the law and protect justice is a cornerstone of civilized order. When Lewis last week attacked the legitimacy of the incoming administration, critics on both sides expressed concern. It is one thing to disagree with a policy, but issuing a challenge to legitimacy is an attack on the republic itself.

Trump did, in fact, prevail in the contest for the White House even though he lost the election by a substantial margin. While it’s true that he received significant, criminal foreign help along with illegitimate and probably illegal assistance from our internal security services, it is dangerous to strip the office and its inhabitant from legitimacy. To do so risks an existential crisis.

That crisis is already upon us. As he did on the Freedom Rides, John Lewis is simply forcing us to confront this crisis in an honest light.

For months Trump has promised to harass the press and limit First Amendment rights. He has threatened specific news outlets, journalists, and even the owner of the Washington Post. He has promised to unleash a wave of racial and religious persecution. He has threatened political opponents and sided with violent racist groups. He has goaded his followers into acts of violence against opponents, right from the main stage of his rallies.

He has utterly disregarded every norm on which the legitimacy of our republic and the respect of its leadership rests. Challenged on any subject he issues confirmable, provable lies without consequence. His campaign has been cited for a practically unimaginable 1000+ violations of campaign funding laws, allegations for which they have offered no response and no defense. He has not only refused to divest himself of his businesses while in the White House, he has refused to even disclose his business interests. After a shady career marked by scams, bankruptcies, almost innumerable business failures, and a mountain of legal problems, he enters the most powerful office in the republic in defiance of every standard of ethics.

Will our “legitimate” institutions protect us? Not without massive public resistance. When the Office of Government Ethics acted to protect our interests by insisting that Trump comply with ethics standards, our “legitimate” Republican elected officials threatened retribution against the agency’s Director. Absent a public outcry and a willingness by ordinary people to resist, Trump will dismantle democratic norms with impunity. Anyone who could watch Trump’s “press conference” last week without seeing the future of representative government in jeopardy, could just as easily have watched crowds beating Freedom Riders and find room to complain about “agitators.”

Relatively comfortable, established figures, both black and white, were annoyed when John Lewis challenged the fundamental moral legitimacy of lunch counters, bus depots, and voter registrars. His actions were disruptive and dangerous. And he was right. His challenge to the legitimacy of an unjust system helped create the modern world.

John Lewis is right again. The same class of people who expressed concern over his “reckless” actions fifty years ago are doing it again. Democrat or Republican, conservative, liberal, libertarian or progressive, we face a threat to democratic order unlike anything in living memory. Instead of complaining about Lewis’ language, we need to match Lewis’ commitment to freedom and justice. Hiding behind some veneer of imagined legitimacy will merely accelerate our decline.

93 Comments

    1. I will be at work tomorrow during the day with my browser closed and at night I will probably watch an episode of Columbo, read a book, and then turn in early.

      Saturday will be a new day, with a new administration. I think we should be cautiously optimistic, and always vigilant. As President Obama said, Americans are at their very core decent people. God Bless America.

      1. I’ll be at work too while it happens. I won’t turn on the radio or pull up any news sites on my iPhone. Then I’ll have beer with friends and continue my DS9 rewatch on Netflix. No politics Friday.

        But Saturday, the Houston Women’s March.

      2. The Guardian, the UK newspaper, is sponsoring a 24-hour climate marathon during the inauguration. Their way of protesting. It will feature climate experts/scientists who will share their observations about climate change.

        https://www.theguardian.com/environment/live/2017/jan/19/global-warning-live-from-the-climate-change-frontline-as-trump-becomes-president?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+morning+briefing+2016&utm_term=209240&subid=20116704&CMP=ema_a-morning-briefing_b-morning-briefing_c-US_d-1

  1. I think the media is growing smarter in their dealings with Trump. From Joe Pompeo, Politico:


    By Joe Pompeo | 01/18/2017 07:01 AM EDT
    FROM MY FEATURE THIS MORNING: In the month since Vanity Fair’s brutal Trump Grill takedown and Trump’s subsequent tweet bashing the publication, Vanity Fair has signed up 80,000 new subscribers, “the majority of them at the standard annual rate of $15 per year, according to a spokeswoman for the magazine. So you could argue that, with nothing more than a few impetuous thumb-taps on his Android, Trump probably made Vanity Fair at least a million dollars richer. The Trump bump happened to coincide with a broader upswing for the 103-year-old Condé Nast glossy. Vanity Fair was never really on a downswing, but nor has it been entirely immune to the pressures facing the magazine industry at large. In recent months, however, as it has fortified its digital presence with a new flagship web vertical, this publication of record for the power elite has felt especially relevant, and it’s numbers are apparently in fine shape. …
    “Revenue aside, the increased buzz can be attributed in part to Vanity Fair’s singular perch in the firmament of Trump media coverage. Carter, whose name has topped Vanity Fair’s masthead for nearly 25 years and seven presidential administrations, has been one of Trump’s most caustic chroniclers for three decades and counting. And while Vanity Fair is hardly unique for being a news organization in Trump’s cross-hairs, the target on its back is more personal than most. In these strange new times for media, that is seen as a good thing. … Trump won …but Vanity Fair comes out with a prize too: a reason to keep writing about the man, to the great pleasure of a growing audience.”
    EIC Graydon Carter: “We’ve never been more profitable. … There was a period where we just completely thought we were f–ked and that the best thing was to realize how f–ked we were, and the business at hand was to get un-f–ked. And we did get un-f–ked … Anybody who’s a part of the press, if they’re not worried about the next four years, they’re not paying attention. It’s gonna be a bumpy road. … But you might as well just hang up your spurs if you’re intimidated by this stuff. He’s gonna have problems on his hands that are bigger than a review of one of his restaurants.”

    Note that major newspapers have experienced the same surge in subscriptions…NYT, WaPo, have all reported record increases in new subscriptions since Trump’s election.

    Chris, is the same thing happening on the conservative side?

    1. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/what-the-gop-really-thinks-of-donald-trump

      Had to share this great article. It is so important that we support journalism that is not afraid to stand up for truth and principles. For $17/year, (digital subscription) you can support the message of freedom of speech from a journal that has the courage of their convictions. Let’s help them along the way…$17 – a movie ticket plus popcorn/drink. What’s not to like?

      1. Mime, for the past 8 years or so I’ve been on a mission to help the journalism industry, and I subscribe to the print version of several magazines and a couple of newspapers. It’s not very expensive, and a home delivery subscription usually gives you full digital access. The only exception I know of is the ECONOMIST.

        I find it more satisfying to read news in print, although as an audiophile I would say I get most of my news from radio.

  2. Chris, very well writen blog entry.

    One theme I keep seeing is a boxing ring in which various fighters take turns and step into the public ring to verbally take on the bully Trump via Twitter, the mainstream media, and debates, whether it be Mrs. Clinton, Ted Cruz, the Khans, Alicia Machado, and now John Lewis, and just as we think they have won the fight they usually lose and somehow end up looking figuratively bruised and smeared from the experience while Mr. Teflon Trump is barely affected. The only people I think have given him a true run for his money are the tough Elizabeth Warren and the cool President Obama.

    Nothing seems to get to him, so maybe we should change strategy.

      1. No, sir, definitely not. I was thinking along the same lines yesterday as I typed, that some of my words could be misinterpreted as calling for Trump’s assassination (“catch him off guard, he won’t know what hit him,”, etc), but that is not my view at all, only that we should stop talking and do something constructive, unobtrusively.

      2. I am a firm believer in the ballot and recently posted on this thread that we could have saved ourselves the current need for “massive public resistance” against Trump had there been massive voter turnout.

      3. Tutta, Trump is a devil. He manipulates, twists, deflects, lies, bullies and so far it’s worked for him. Those who oppose him (broadly and individually) have to decide what we’re comfortable with and find something that achieves our end goal other than simply feeling better for having stated our frustration and anger. For you, it’s quiet resistance. For others, it’s more aggressive. The women’s march in D.C. is going to be a very public embarassment for him. He can talk past Lewis’ action, but it is going to be hard to ignore the fact that more people are expected to attend the march the same weekend as his inauguration than inauguration event. It is also supposed to be the only day that week without rain (-; The gods are smiling on the gals, it seems…….Of course, he could pay people to attend like he did at his announcement.

        I am reading Michael Lewis’ book (The Undoing Project) about two genius Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. These brilliant men were exact opposite temperament but worked together effectively for most of their lives until their later years. Kahneman observed about Amos that he “needed opposition in his life (to stimulate him)…without it he had nothing to triumph over.” It “drove” Amos. Kahneman, was equally smart but couldn’t tolerate conflict. Together, they achieved more in the field of behavioral psychology than they ever would have individually.

        I don’t know what will work for Trump. Likely, he will be brought down by the GOP if he gets in their way. He has no shame and thus the things that would check most people with big egos doesn’t affect him. When – not if – he goes down, it will be loud and ugly. I just hope he doesn’t take our country down in the process.

        I hope you read the Politico piece Aaron posted about how the media is beginning to understanding that they need to do to deal with Trump. Personally, I think if they ignored the vast majority of his tweets – simply didn’t acknowledge or report them, that would be effective. If they didn’t hang out in the lobby of his hotel, fawning over every visitor who emerges from the elevator with him. IOW, I think the media needs to ignore Donald Trump to the maximum extent possible. THAT would get to him.

        The battle with the Republican majority who are methodically destroying our institutions, our rights, and our environment are going to require a different approach. That cannot be an unobtrusive fight. That will take marches, phone calls, opposition groups, letters, petitions, and more. It will take all of us doing whatever we can to try to save our democracy and our country.

      4. Mime, thanks for the excellent reply. I again mentioned voting, or lack thereof, to stress to everyone here that I would never approve of the bullet over the ballot. It’s never too late to effect change, to fix a problem, and you are right that each of has our own personal way of dealing with things. In the case of John Lewis, I think he is being criticized more for being disruptive than for questioning Trump’s legitimacy as president, perhaps because some people are tired of the fighting and want to move on with the governance of the nation and the new administration. However, it’s ironic and unfair to criticize Mr. Lewis for being disruptive and at the same time tolerate the constantly disruptive Mr. Trump.

  3. There’s been some controversy about black leaders meeting with Trump. I think that they should do that, but the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with Martin Luther King III going to Trump Tower on MLK day. Other days, at the White House, fine. He should have invited Trump to join him at the MLK center on that day.

    1. Relevant:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/10/magazine/i-know-how-it-feels-to-be-someones-token-im-sure-ben-carson-does-too.html

      “if you print out a chart with the faces of Trump’s picks on it, the first thing you’re likely to notice about it is that his cabinet consists almost entirely of white men. And the second thing you’re likely to notice is Dr. Ben Carson.

      “His is a conspicuous face. It’s black, for one, which makes it, in this cabinet, unique. It’s also famous: Carson is one of the best-known medical doctors of our time and mounted a presidential run of his own. But Carson’s face seems to be in the wrong place. The retired neurosurgeon won’t be running, say, Health and Human Services; he’ll manage the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His inclusion is conspicuous for another reason too: Shortly after the election, Carson’s friend and adviser Armstrong Williams said that Carson wouldn’t take a cabinet position, because he had no governing experience. “The last thing he would want to do,” Williams said, “was take a position that could cripple the presidency.” It seems very unlikely that a retired neurosurgeon with no governing experience is one of “the best people” to handle city planning and housing policies. So why is he there?

      “Still, this administration stands to be mighty white and male, and its few women and people of color, tend to appear in roles that feel like afterthoughts or stereotypes. It’s almost funny in its clumsiness. Nikki Haley, who has virtually no foreign-policy experience but is the child of Indian immigrants, will be ambassador to the United Nations. A black man will oversee housing projects. As of late December, Politico was reporting that Trump’s staff was “scrambling” to find a Hispanic candidate to head the Department of Agriculture. These appointees may be as accomplished and well qualified as anyone else in Trump’s cabinet. But the stagecraft and typecasting of their appointments are definitely what you might call tokenism, writ large and on full, public display.”

      […]

      “Tokenism is, above all, a form of misdirection. It’s the smiling Muslim kid on the school brochure, the black editorial assistant in the all-white newsroom, the telegenic woman serving as a campaign spokeswoman. By the mid-1990s, television and film had mastered this, too, dutifully checking off boxes with actors of color whose purpose was mainly to be seen.”

  4. FYI here is one look at how an apparatus is gearing down to grind Trump. It’s not just a statement of intent, but researches projects reporters have started.

    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/trump-is-making-journalism-great-again-214638

    I have a longer comment to make with this regarding some of the frustrations voiced in this thread: action items to start taking locally that can potentially put the man on the run, or at least keep him busy. Will post later, when I am back at my computer.

    1. Great article! Echos Creigh’s concern for conflicts of interest….Trump has loans worth $1.5 Billion all over world….(WSJ)…lots of enemies (surprise, surprise) both within civil service corps, the GOP, and the other 16 candidates who tried to share the stage with him….Now add Angela Merkal, the CIA, FBI, DNI….

      As the author of the Politico piece notes: “Trump, remember, will only be president, not emperor…”

      I only wish the press had seen Trump for what he is when their reporting could have made a difference in the election. Better late than never……

    2. Alright, basically I have a plan for dogging Trump about his tax returns for… a long time. It can dog him for a long time.

      But because it’s a long term plan, it has a lot of parts. So before I write it all out I’m going to take some time to try to organize it and make it as simple as possible, as well as research best tacts. Maybe a couple days, though I don’t have much time this week to work on it.

      Anyway, stay tuned. The philosophy behind it is to follow the process of how Obama’s birth certificate became an issue –> and make sure it stays an issue in much the same way.

    1. Courtesy of the New Yorker, here’s some songs from the B Street Band (Bruce Springsteen cover band) setlist that had to be scrapped:

      “Born in the U.S.A., but Was There a Birth Certificate? You Tell Me. Some People Say That Was Not His Birth Certificate. Maybe It Was, Maybe It Wasn’t. I’m Saying I Don’t Know. Nobody Knows.”

      “Rosalita (Who Was Like a Seven, or an Eight at Most, But Is Now Disgusting—This Is Someone Who Really Likes to Eat)”
      http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/the-b-street-bands-scrapped-inauguration-set-list?mbid=nl_January%2016th%202017%20(4)&CNDID=37942569&spMailingID=10253883&spUserID=MTMzMTg0MDIyOTExS0&spJobID=1081488782&spReportId=MTA4MTQ4ODc4MgS2

  5. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” Edmund Burke (probably)

    Bravo John Lewis. Thank you Chris for writing this. Fight the evil or (tacitly) support it, that is the choice that all of us now face.

    There are people who will support Trump no matter what–don’t worry about them. Most people instinctively follow the crowd, which is why we have to be both non-violent, vocal, and visible. Hearts aren’t changed by reasoning with them, they are changed by having a compelling narrative, and by the weight of public opinion.

  6. EJ

    Powerful stuff, Chris. Thank you. I know several people that I’m going to link this to.

    It’s interesting to see your position drift, even if only over the last twelve months. You’re an extremely honest and intelligent man, and I’ve learned a lot from reading your thoughts.

  7. Chris wrote: “By issuing a direct challenge to the legitimacy of our system, he is challenging our capacity to use law itself to remedy this situation” and “Will our “legitimate” institutions protect us? Not without massive public resistance.”
    ************************
    It’s never too late to bring about change, but I think we could have saved ourselves the current need for “massive public resistance” to “remedy this situation” had more people gotten out to vote to legitimately defeat Mr. Trump at the polls. Voter suppression was not to blame. Voter apathy was to blame. President Obama is correct that we take our democracy for granted.

    1. In any case, as for what needs to be done with the present situation, I think we should proceed quietly and without fanfare, behind the scenes, instead of calling attention to ourselves and engaging in public arguments with Mr. Trump, which just gives him more publicity and more sympathy from certain quarters. We should keep it legal, but quiet, and catch him off guard.

      1. I keep thinking that the Democratic Party needs to attack congressional Republicans at every turn, for bad policies, for corruption, and for their embrace of Trump. Every time a Democratic politician is on TV, they need to be on message and attack hard. Now that Republicans control Congress and the Presidency, they need to be made to own what they have done and are doing. They must be continually forced to defend themselves. As I’ve mentioned before – in politics if you’re playing defense you’re losing.

      2. Spot on. It’s called, “smart, effective offense”.

        Each of us here undoubtedly follows other blogs. We can stand up using facts to keep the record honest. To publicly hold accountable those who tell lies or half truths or comment with poorly informed or erroneous deductions in public forums without consequence. I have started to quietly, insistently respond – to correct the public record. It’s one way I can contribute to informing those who may be following but lack the ability to ferret out the truth from their own thought process or study. Will it change any minds? I don’t know but this I do know: saying nothing, allowing a bigoted or non-factual remark pass as truth simply by not rebutting it, is guaranteed to fail to advance truth. Baby steps.

      3. I think it’s possible to go on the offensive quietly and furtively. Quiet does not equal defensive or complacent. Quiet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re afraid to step on toes or offending people. It’s a strategy in and of itself.

      4. This article was linked and it speaks to how hard the Trump rise has been and will continue to be for our national media. It’s a two-part article so will post the balance when it is released. I personally have levied much criticism against the media for their ineffectiveness in holding Trump accountable, This article looks at the difficulties they face and why we need to support them as they struggle to survive as an industry and more importantly, a bulwark against freedom of speech.

        http://pressthink.org/2016/12/winter-coming-prospects-american-press-trump/

    2. I agree about voter apathy being a part of why Trump won, but I disagree that voter suppression didn’t factor in. The reasons were complex. Anytime less than 80K votes combined from 3 states decides how the electoral college numbers turn out, small things matter, and cumulatively, they matter a lot. So much was riding on this election’s outcome. To think that Russia played any role in financing or influencing through whatever means (wikileaks, direct campaign funding, fake news, etc.) in combination with apathy and voter suppression, etc., in my view changed the course of history.

      1. Sink your teeth into this stealth move by the House Republicans and decide if you still want to play “nice” with the Republican Party. Rather than take each regulation one at a time to give the public and the media time to react, by this action, the House can kill all regulations in one fell swoop and people won’t even know it’s happening.

        Over-reach or arrogance?

        http://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/01/05/1617127/-U-S-House-Passes-Bill-to-Allow-One-Step-Trashing-of-Multiple-Obama-Administration-Federal-Rules?

  8. I believe things will be different for Mr. Trump come Jan 20, when he actually becomes president.

    Up to now he has been merely “Candidate Trump” and “President-Elect Trump,” and as such his words and actions could be dismissed as saying or doing what was necessary to get elected (“it’s just words and soundbites,” as he himself said). Had he not won the election, no one would have cared, and his lies and exaggerations would have been forgotten as those of a desperate candidate.

    Once he is actually the president of the United States, every single word he utters or tweets will have the power of the presidency and as such he can and should be held accountable and it could result in his impeachment if the standards for impeachment are met.

    1. The ONLY way DJT would be impeached by a majority Republican senate, is if he gets in the way of their larger agenda, because they have one in spades. I think this is why they agreed to hold the hearing about Russian influence after not acknowledging its relevance…Someone within the bowels of the GOP is keeping a list. If they need to move Trump out of the way, then they will act but for now, he is serving their purposes quite well.

  9. So when the violence starts (and it is inevitable) , what will happen? What will be the ultimate outcome?

    Today, pretty much every single person in the western world is now a cameraman, with the ability to upload the images of violence to millions in minutes. But that has been going on for close to a decade, and it seems to me that the world is desensitized to it, or the powers in charge can simply weather the very mild media storms. Consider all the images of cops murdering blacks that people have been exposed to in the past 2 or 3 years alone. I am no historian, and please correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t see a groundswell of righteous anger occurring today as it likely would have in the 60’s.

    Secondly, in the 60’s there were essentially 3 major TV networks, all with reasonably high ethical standards. There were hundreds of independent newspapers and radio stations, but once again, most had high journalistic standards with much less political fragmentation. Today, we could see trump goons murder a protestor and fox and breitbart would spin it as self-defence, while trump administrators would hide behind some homeland security regulation and cast the victim as a terrorist.

    While trump and the other nazi’s are trying hard to drag the u.s back to some form of the 1950’s, they quite rightly recognize that technology, specifically the internet, allows them far more ability to muddy the waters. The shock value of those 1960’s B&W photos don’t have the same impact on the morality of people today. And evil now has its own “news networks’ to counter anything what sane, moral people get outraged over.

    1. What’s different? Courage. We’re too ‘comfortable’….not willing to make the ultimate sacrifice with our bodies, our income, or our reputations. We are what’s different, not the horrendous situations. They are just as worthy of our protest but we are not willing to stand up.

  10. I confess, I was one of those liberals who was initially concerned with Lewis’s statements. Given my worry about the decay of political institutions that’s already happened, I was conflicted about bringing down the Presidency as well.

    But I was convinced after hearing Lewis talk. He specifically states that he accepts the election results; that’s not why Trump is illegitimate. It’s everything else: his siding with Russia and Putin over Obama and our own intelligence agencies, and the rest of the norms Trump has violated before he’s even taken office.

    I’m increasingly of the opinion that we have to burn the village down to save it: you can’t compromise and negotiate with people who don’t even view you as legitimate partners in a shared process, with at least a few shared goals. We can’t keep denying the rot within our institutions and keep hoping a few touchups will bring them back. Better to acknowledge they’re gone, fight the new fight, and hope that when we win, we remember to focus on rebuilding those institutions rather than punishing the people we’ve defeated.

    So my question is this: what next? The civil rights movement had clear goals and demands. When the students sat at that lunch counter, they had a simple demand: desegregate. What does Lewis want here? What should we want? Maybe we demand impeachment? The Republicans have shown that if you say something often enough, it becomes accepted as mainstream, and then you win. Maybe we start listing the ways in which Trump already deserves impeachment, so that when his approval ratings drop and Republicans get nervous about 2018 they might take it up, if only to save their own jobs from the sinking Trumptanic?

    1. Should Trump be impeached? I answer with a resounding YES. This is a man who has been in contact with and shown disturbing behavior towards a foreign foe that has consistently sought to undermine the United States and its role in the world; more than enough justification for impeachment. Just the other day we heard him talking about NATO being outdated and going specifically after the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, both things that had Putin leaning back in his chair, sipping some wine with that detestable grin on his face, whispering “Good”.

      It shouldn’t just be Trump though. Every single person who was a part of his entourage and/or enabled him should be held to account as well, and not just the big fish either (Paul Ryan, Pribeus, Bannon, Conway, McConnell, HANNITY, etc), but everyone. There has to be a resounding message that if you pull this kind of bullshit, you will be made to pay a very heavy price.

    2. I’d say we start with accountability and transparency. Trump MUST detach himself from his business interests. Having his sons run the operation is NOT ACCEPTABLE, and the GOP ought to be leading here. Would that be a financial sacrifice for Trump.? Yes it would be, and too damn bad. If you run for public office, there are sacfirices that you should be expected to make, for the sake of trust in our system. Don’t like them? Don’t run for office then. No excuses. Also those tax returns need to be released now. We used to have a gentleman’s agreement that all candidates followed, but since Trump dares to flout it, it’s time to get this officially required, whether it needs be done via Constitutional Amendment, a bill passed by Congress, or the parties change their rules (seems like here’s a bit of easy moral ground for the Dems- change the primary rules to require releasing taxes before going on a Dem ballot).

      Also there should be televised Congressional hearings on Russian interference.

      That’s my 3 to start with. What else should we add?

      1. Maybe being “adaptable” is what the Republicans and Trump are counting on. Maybe what is needed in its stead, is principled action. I will not try to convince anyone who supports Trump of the danger and ignorance of their choice. When have Republicans ever cared what Democrats find offensive? Or, for that matter, what is “fair”? What do we have to lose? What do Democrats have to gain by being nice while the GOP pulls every trick in the book to win elections and get their way? To pass a budget? Holding up a SC nominee for 9 months? Minorities, including but not limited to Blacks know that reforms that had begun to improve the criminal justice system from policing to arraignment to incarceration are, toast. Equal rights will be next as marriage equality, job protections for the LGBT community, and women’s rights are eroded until they are gone.

        No, I will not waste my time trying to convince people whose minds have been closed for a very long time. I am going to work to bring new people into the Democratic party, help them understand why this party is their party, and ask them to get involved.

        Our grandsons, ages 15 and 18 visited today. I asked them if they had any preparation in school about the MLK Day. It turns out they didn’t. Their high schools are about 90% white so I guess it’s “just another school holiday”. What Congressman Lewis did may have its drawbacks but it has prompted dialogue about race and democracy in a way that regular patriotic speeches never could.

    3. Trump’s conflict of interest problem is the biggest legitimacy issue for me. He’s done – and will do – many things I don’t like. But I think a basic standard for public service at any level from dogcatcher to President is to demonstrate that you are putting the country’s interests ahead of your own.

    4. Agree, WX Wall.

      Creigh: The biggest legitimacy issue for me (about Trump) is his judgement. That drives his decision to blow off criticisms or acknowledgement about conflicts of interest and practically everything else he does. It is his lack of moral, informed judgement that worries me most.

  11. DS

    I’m sorry, Chris, but you’re fundamentally wrong here. It is wrong for our politicians to question the legitimacy of our electoral system. It was wrong when Trump did it during the campaign, and it’s wrong when John Lewis does it now. What’s more, his doing so will only benefit Trump by activating partisan sentiment. The hypocrisy outrage pieces practically write themselves.

    The comparisons to the sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement are not apt. John Lewis will face no legal or physical consequences for his actions. A twitter rant from Trump, who everyone already knows is a racist jerk, will not induce the sort of outrage that the beating of clearly innocent young black people did. In fact, I doubt the criticism of Trump generated by this story has any legs at all outside the media and blogosphere.

    If the campaign demonstrated anything, it is that Trump wins continuously when he is in the news, regardless of how negative the attention. He’ll simply turn this around on Democrats with 140 character half-truths that, while they distort the truth, go down easy with a glass of warm partisanship and a dash of racial resentment. Meanwhile, the outcry about Trump’s awfulness, which did little to stop him from getting elected, distracts from messaging about the very real impacts of the policies being pursued in Congress right now.

    Look, this isn’t about choosing the means by which we challenge the system; it’s about crafting and selling the message that beats Trump at the polls (and like it or not, that’s how he has to be beat). You’ve already laid out how that has to happen: the facts about the harm caused by his policies need to be weaved into a compelling narrative, it needs to be hung around his neck, and then Republicans need to be saddled with him.

    What John Lewis is doing right now will not advance that cause. The campaign demonstrated that there is no line Trump can cross that will do him in. If grabbing women by the pussy is insufficient, so is castigating a Civil Rights icon via twitter, even on MLK day. Democrats and the media have a limited reservoir of credibility with those swing voters who went for Trump. Spending it this way is unhelpful.

    1. DS, a compelling argument, but here’s the thing. Trump supporters will never agree with any criticism of him or the party he “represents”, but that doesn’t remove our obligation to point out the wrongs that he does. I understand and actually agree with much of what you say but I look at our choices differently.

      We are the comfortable people who are having to look at a man who is destroying our country while.we.say.nothing. Your point is this is the wrong situation and time to stand against our institutions – the very institutions that have been blatantly being destroyed via voting rights, equal rights, equal opportunity, and so very much more.

      When is enough, enough? I don’t think Congressman Lewis was grandstanding nor do I believe you do. What I do believe is that he was giving the comfortable, still shell-shocked people of America a wake-up call: DO not be passive; fight back with dignity and principle. The very fact that we are all talking about his actions now tells me all I need to know. How many white Americans (and probably minorities) would otherwise go about their day today without even thinking about it being MLK DAy?

    2. When the lawyers at the NAACP got wind of the protest Lewis was participating in, they were furious. The argument they made in the black churches all over the South that year was very simple – don’t do anything rash. We’re working to secure your rights through legitimate, legal channels. Your actions will provoke a powerful reaction, waking the beast, launching the KKK into the streets.

      They weren’t wrong about the situation, but the misunderstood the power of what these kids (they were very young) were doing. It was scary. It was creating chain reactions that were impossible to control. It was threatening to overwhelm both the capacity and the will of legitimate law enforcement to protect their community.

      Most importantly, it was honest and morally provocative. Those kids were burning down all the comfortable spaces in both communities where people liked to go and hide from reality. Lewis put everyone in a position in which they were forced to take a side. America would either accept their right to exist and operate under the same legal protections as whites, or America would have to abandon its founding pretense of “all men are created equal.”

      Once again, there is absolutely nothing legitimate about this administration. No one who collaborates with this regime can pretend to any moral authority. That’s simply a reality and Lewis is merely forcing us to recognize it. I think he’s right to do so and I’m glad he did it.

      1. Chris-
        This worked in the Civil Rights movement because black leaders had faith that the “comfortable middle” of white America would choose to side with them. That is, if you force people to go from apathetic neutral to choosing a side, you need to be sure they’ll choose your side. Otherwise, you’ve hurt your cause.

        Right now, I’m not so sure that people will choose our side. Trump supporters freely chose him despite all his criminalities. People who are members of groups with “Freedom” and “Patriot” in their names openly admire Putin and root for Russia to defeat our policies.

        In this setting, if you tell a Trump supporter that Trump isn’t your President, he’ll probably agree with you: “Trump is not your President, he’s mine, and he’s going to kick your ass. It’s why I voted for him.”

        Imagine if Lewis sitting at the lunch counter forcing Americans to take sides caused most Americans to side with the police beating him up. Would you say he was successful then (even if he was still morally correct)?

      2. That’s a great comment and it brings us to the other side of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X.

        By provoking that conflict, civil rights activists were also launching a chain reaction. People like Lewis were, in fact, murdered in numbers no one likes to talk about. But they were calculating that King’s “arc of the moral universe” theory was on their side. They were right, but Malcolm X was right there stalking their efforts, promising a very different approach to the fight for civil rights.

        That dichotomy never goes away, and its with us even now. Candidly, I think the public consensus runs even stronger in favor of Lewis’ position now then it did 50 years ago, but if it doesn’t then we’re heading for a terrible conflict. Hiding from that conflict will only empower the other side. Better to force everyone’s hand now then to wait.

      3. I’d point out another example from that era: the riots at the Chicago convention in 1968. This was anti-war protestors forcing middle America to choose sides. They sparked a police riot (yep, the final analysis of the riots blamed the cops for instigating and carrying out the riot). And Americans did choose sides: against the anti-War protestors, against their favored nominee McCarthy, and ultimately for Richard Nixon.

        When Americans saw white college kids being beaten up by the police for protesting an immoral war, they didn’t suddenly see the worthiness of their cause. They saw a bunch of threatening hippies getting dangerously out of control and rooted for the cops to bring them to heel with a billy club.

        That’s why, even though I agree with Lewis, I don’t know if his tactics will work this time. If John Lewis is the modern day equivalent of, well, John Lewis, who’s our equivalent of Malcom X? I find myself, for better or for worse, more drawn to that…

    3. “What John Lewis is doing right now will not advance that cause. The campaign demonstrated that there is no line Trump can cross that will do him in. If grabbing women by the pussy is insufficient, so is castigating a Civil Rights icon via twitter, even on MLK day. Democrats and the media have a limited reservoir of credibility with those swing voters who went for Trump. Spending it this way is unhelpful.”

      The members of the Trump cult are unreachable right now, and may be never be reachable. Forget them. But there are plenty of people, like the conservative members of my family, who were disgusted by Trump, but held their noses and voted for him anyway because they convinced themselves that his advisors would steer him in the right direction, despite his massive character flaws. We need to rub Trump’s immaturity in their faces. We need to keep hammering on his flouting of ethical standards. We need to keep those Russians connections in the sunlight. They need to shed this delusion that Trump is going to pivot, that’s he’s going to act like an adult, that he’s willing to listen to inconvenient truths, that’s he going to change. It’s not happening.

      Hopeful this also reaches the Bernie/Stein voters who mistakenly concluded that Clinton would be as bad as Trump.

      1. DS

        When you ‘rub it in their faces,’ you will achieve precisely the opposite of what you hope. I get the urge; I’m constantly tempted to scream from the rooftops at some of my friends and family about how they could have been so stupid. But that’s not how you change minds, and you won’t persuade them by constantly pointing out how immature Trump is. It was tried during the campaign, and it was ineffective.

      2. That may be. What Lewis’ action is doing, as it did fifty years ago, is force that reckoning. No one will be able to support Trump because of “but, Hillary” or “but, emails,” they will have to own him outright or abandon ship. I’m all for it.

      3. “But that’s not how you change minds, and you won’t persuade them by constantly pointing out how immature Trump is. It was tried during the campaign, and it was ineffective.”

        During the election, the immaturity was embarrassing, but it didn’t have the power to totally fuck things up. Now the immature, thin-skinned, narcissistic bully has the office of the President, and all the powers that go with it. As the saying goes, shit’s about to get real.

      4. DS

        “That may be. What Lewis’ action is doing, as it did fifty years ago, is force that reckoning. No one will be able to support Trump because of “but, Hillary” or “but, emails,” they will have to own him outright or abandon ship. I’m all for it”

        That they will, but you’re pushing them towards him, and you’ll rally the troops in Congress, which, in it’s current state, may not actually be capable of pushing Ryan or Trump’s agenda. Electorally, I doubt this will make much difference in the short term; demographics was always likely to hand the Democrats the Presidency in 2020. In the long term, though, I think the push you’re making will cause resentment that is likely to make it harder to sell a radical agenda based around concepts like UBI. With us or against us feels good, but I think you’ll come to regret it.

      5. DS

        I’m not accusing you of stirring racial tension. I do think the path you’re choosing may be irresponsible, which also has nothing to do with race. You’re abandoning persuasion and dialogue; that generally has consequences. I hope it works, because it seems to be the path we’re headed, but at the scale we’re talking about, I have a hard time seeing a future where this ends in anything but violence.

      6. To be really candid, I don’t like this situation any more than you do. And my first response to seeing Lewis’ comments was to roll my eyes.

        I hated writing this piece. I hate the situation we’re in. I want to be a Republican again. I love Wall Street and banks and investment and trade. I love the constant, dynamic transformations driven by commerce. I care enormously about the power of markets, I love business and economics, I believe technology and commerce are far more effective at solving public problems than politics. But something politics intervenes in ways that cannot be ignored.

        This is a miserable situation. In a sane universe I would not find myself siding with Democrats. Yet here we are.

      7. Chris, if I may be equally candid, this Republican Party is not good enough for you. It no longer supports your values and principles. By taking a stand against the Trump candidacy, against racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination, a belief in climate change and protection of important democratic institutions, you simply have outgrown the Republican Party. However reluctant you may be to agree with Democrats on a host of issues, it is more important to stay true to democratic principles which require no party label, only loyalty and decency.

      8. DS

        In some ways, I think our disagreement is merely tactical. You want to punch Trump in the mouth and take him down in a brawl; I want to see him stabbed in the back, preferably by his own supporters. I think the latter remains possible, and may help minimize collateral damage. I’d love to take the moral high ground, but I don’t want to be buried on it.

      9. It’s true. It was true of the arguments between King and the NAACP. Over time they found that their methods complimented each other far more than they expected. King’s Montgomery boycott was actually rescued by a civil rights lawsuit. The NAACP discovered that the courts became far more activist as they grew aware of the risks of inaction. Even Malcolm X, who King really disliked, became a threat on the horizon that spurred white moderates to accede to King’s demands. It was an ecosystem.

      10. DS

        Well, I hope it shakes out that way. I’m still pretty sure that Trump will destroy his support among more moderate Republicans and former Obama voters by tripping over his own dick on healthcare and economic policy. I had hoped to start a dialogue on Trump with Senator Gardner’s staff, but they have been… unresponsive. That being the case, I’ll be having a sit down with an old friend who worked in the Obama Whitehouse to see what her plans are, and what I can do to help. I’ve never been a partisan, but, a you said, here we are.

      11. “I hope it works, because it seems to be the path we’re headed, but at the scale we’re talking about, I have a hard time seeing a future where this ends in anything but violence.”

        I see that too, and I’d rather it not come to that. Similar to Chris, I’d rather spend less time with politics and more with better things (science, education, music, etc.). Probably most of us have read histories of bad times (be it the rise of fascism in Europe or Jim Crow in America or the fall of the Roman Republic) and asked how could people let that happen? We just may be at one of those nexus points now, where it’s our turn to ask ourselves “how bad could things really get?” and “what am I willing to do to resist it?”

        I’m siding with Chris here, but I completely get your concerns. I don’t dismiss them. Lots of people have very short attention spans, and sadly all the outrageousness has shifted the boundaries of normal. We’re going to have to be very adaptable.

      12. @DS: >] “When you ‘rub it in their faces,’ you will achieve precisely the opposite of what you hope. I get the urge; I’m constantly tempted to scream from the rooftops at some of my friends and family about how they could have been so stupid. But that’s not how you change minds, and you won’t persuade them by constantly pointing out how immature Trump is. It was tried during the campaign, and it was ineffective.”

        ^ What this one said. It’s a mighty self-satisfying thing to do, but it’s not going to help you win.

        @Chris Ladd: >] “That may be. What Lewis’ action is doing, as it did fifty years ago, is force that reckoning. No one will be able to support Trump because of “but, Hillary” or “but, emails,” they will have to own him outright or abandon ship. I’m all for it.”

        Will they? Those would be the only two options for those still involved in the process, but some could just choose to say fuck it and just give up. Of course the most radical Trumpists will stay loyal to Dear Leader even if the world ends, but there are those who earnestly put their hopes in him, hoping for real change. Don’t underestimate the despair felt by being so unilaterally betrayed (which, of course, they will). These are people desperate to believe in something and something has to be there to take Trump’s place.

        @DS: >] “That they will, but you’re pushing them towards him, and you’ll rally the troops in Congress, which, in it’s current state, may not actually be capable of pushing Ryan or Trump’s agenda. Electorally, I doubt this will make much difference in the short term; demographics was always likely to hand the Democrats the Presidency in 2020. In the long term, though, I think the push you’re making will cause resentment that is likely to make it harder to sell a radical agenda based around concepts like UBI. With us or against us feels good, but I think you’ll come to regret it.”

        Horror show. What mandate can be gleamed by virtue of the fact that you won by sheer numbers and nothing else? It’s a recipe for further corruption, mistrust and arrogance.

  12. Bravo, Chris. Spoken from the heart with truth. BTW, your observation about the 1000+ campaign violations, should be expanded to note that in addition to the Trump’s campaign silence on these issues, there has been NO consequence. This is what enables bullies. I am more ashamed of Trump’s colleagues for not standing up to him than I am expectant of Trump to do the right thing.

    This is what made and makes Congressman John Lewis’s quiet act so compelling. This is a man who knows all about consequences for one’s actions and has been willing to pay for it with his life, if need be. How many of us here, as horrified and disgusted as we are about not only DT but the actions of the GOP would put our bodies in harms way? I can’t say I would. I lack Lewis’ courage.

  13. Judging by my facebook feed and knowing some of these people I say that there are plenty of people with the guts to resist Trump. When Rep. Lewis was fighting for civil rights I was a child. I am not one now. I am a cantankerous old southern redneck. So no I do not think I will knuckle under either.

  14. Why is John Lewis’ de-legitimizing of the PEOTUS Trump at the inauguration different than John Wilson’s de-legitimizing of the PEOTUS Obama at his inauguration?

    In other words, why is delegitimization in this case an existential threat to the system versus last time, and why is delegitimization in this case more effective versus last time?

    1. Because the GOP isn’t demonstrating that they will hold Trump accountable for breaking so many necessary norms, like financial disclosure, like eliminating COI. They also don’t seem as concerned as they ought to be over the whole Russia issue. I haven’t heard a peep out of them over Trump’s threats to the freedom of the press, or call him out on his lies (like this won in a landslide bullshit).

      I’d prefer that the GOP do its duty to the country and help enforce these norms. But if they won’t, I’ll take a repeat of the 60s over knuckling under to Trump flouting these norms.

    2. It’s a great question, and it’s a question that civil rights activists wrestled with in the 60’s. What makes an act of civil disobedience something more than just an obnoxious display of disrespect?

      The answer is in the act itself. It must be peaceful. It must be, itself, legitimate. And it must be calculated to provoke a response from the “legitimate” authority that would bait them into dropping their mask. A well-crafted act of civil disobedience flips the mark of legitimacy to the opposition.

      Lewis in this case didn’t do anything all that remarkable. He didn’t disrupt a meeting or throw a bomb. He defied this administration by exercising his 1st Amendment rights in an orderly manner. For a Congressman to express that sentiment is a matter of some gravity, but without the response from Trump it would have been a one-day minor media story.

      It was Trump’s response that demonstrated Lewis’ point and basically completed the case about legitimacy.

      Rep. Wilson was an angry white man who yelled at a black guy. it wasn’t civil disobedience. He brave. It wasn’t dangerous. It had no moral claim behind it. And it merely served to back up the racism that was already sweeping the country. And did Obama respond in way that confirmed the delegitimation? I’d say no.

    3. Principle, as opposed to bigotry. Class, as opposed to crass. Standing up quietly for one’s deepest beliefs, as opposed to lashing out in a small, ugly manner. Dignity, as opposed to disrespect.

      BTW, it was Congressman Joe (not John) Lewis. May he live in infamy for this hateful outburst.

  15. “He has utterly disregarded every norm on which the legitimacy of our republic and the respect of its leadership rests. Challenged on any subject he issues confirmable, provable lies without consequence. His campaign has been cited for a practically unimaginable 1000+ violations of campaign funding laws, allegations for which they have offered no response and no defense. He has not only refused to divest himself of his businesses while in the White House, he has refused to even disclose his business interests. After a shady career marked by scams, bankruptcies, almost innumerable business failures, and a mountain of legal problems, he enters the most powerful office in the republic in defiance of every standard of ethics.”

    If the GOP were actually willing to demand accountability from Trump on these things, rather than sucking up, making excuses, and looking the other way, then they would have some standing in their complaints about Lewis. But they aren’t, so I agree with your take and Rep. Lewis’ actions here. Boss Tweet isn’t going to play nice, doesn’t think the rules apply to him, and the sooner people stand up to him and start the civil disobedience, the better.

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