Opinion: Obama Resurrects Hope In His Eulogy to John Lewis

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During this past week many of us mourned the loss of John Lewis and the kind of greatness he had.  The iconic civil rights leader was a man who refused to give up or give in after being beaten within an inch of his life.  Those who knew him described him as someone you just had to love. Even Moscow Mitch had to take a moment to speak well of John Lewis.

But not Donald Trump.

Instead of joining America’s former presidents in celebrating the life of a man who dedicated his life to making elections freer and fairer, Donald Trump destroyed his electoral chances by talking about delaying the election – because he would rather have unfair elections than lose.  He thinks everyone else should risk covid-19 infection while he can use the absentee ballot.

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On Friday, the Trump campaign ceased its television advertising, supposedly to rethink its messaging. 

Let me save you guys some time.

The messaging is only part of the problem.  The real issue is Trump himself.  He is the opposite of the man you want to take home for supper or out for a beer.

To be honest, I used to chafe at the thought that people chose a president based on whether they’d want to spend time with him or God willing, someday her. It’s possible that a great leader with vision and bold solutions to serious problems might not be Mr. or Ms. Personality. I still think that.

But Trump, who takes everything to an extreme, really went way out there on this point.  There is nothing to like about the man.

He proved it by cyber-spitting on John Lewis’ life, while Barack Obama’s eulogy sounded poetic.  The funeral that was truly filled with love, respect, dignity and honor for the man, all things Donald Trump wants and can’t buy.

People from all walks of life loved and mourned John Lewis.  The reason is so basic and so simple:  John Lewis offered hope.  Whether you had all the money in the world or, like so many Americans today, you are wondering if you’ll have your next meal, John Lewis had the capacity to tell you why caring about your fellow human and your country matters.

During his eulogy, Barack Obama reminisced about how his first inauguration also belonged to John Lewis.  They had the kind of love and respect that made sharing the best moments and the more difficult ones possible.

Both of them had that bond with the people who make America. I’m talking about the people who do the “essential work” but are not considered essential when they need the government’s help for their very survival.  John Lewis would help them and so would Barack Obama.  Barack Obama’s eulogy was the twin pillar to John Lewis’ final message  to America, published in the New York Times on the day we said our final good-bye to him.

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

I’ve bookmarked Morgan Freeman’s recitation of Congressman Lewis’s words for those days when I may wonder if it’s even possible to let freedom ring with Donald Trump as president.

I’m not hearing freedom ring in Trump’s voice, especially not when we’re fighting a pandemic during the worst economic downturn in our history.  A president is supposed to speak of genuine accomplishments, statements of fact that do not ring hollow.  As much as Trump brags about what he’s done lately, we’re also seeing him play golf while Melania announces plans to spend a ton of money on tv cameras for the Rose Garden.  Meanwhile Trump blames all his failures on everyone else. 

When the Trumps aren’t finding new ways to spend our money on their surroundings, their comfort and their protection from covid-19, Trump relies on racist tropes and doctors who believe demon sex causes disease.  That is the absolute opposite of hope and shows no understanding of the fact that he works for us and we don’t work for him.  That won’t change no matter how much he wishes he could be Vladimir Putin.

The bottom line from Trump and Lewis and Obama holding the same news cycle: there is plenty of bigotry in America, but Americans seek something more than a message that amounts to saying you are doomed and there is nothing anyone can do about it.  We needed hope more than ever; that’s why Barack Obama’s eulogy mattered.

Speaking of the day Lewis and others marched from Selma to Montgomery; Barack Obama spoke of the violence that almost killed John Lewis – and the fact that cameras caught the incriminating violence of racism.

“This time, the world saw what happened, bore witness to Black Americans who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans. Who were not asking for special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that.”

Lewis and Obama talked about each generation’s responsibility to keep on fighting for a more perfect Union.  Every generation has their Emmet Till and George Floyd.  And every time there will be a George Wallace or a Donald Trump selling a version of doctors who believe in demon sex.  Every time, America will prevail.