Yesterday, Rep. John Lewis told NBC audiences that Donald J. Trump, duly elected, legally and without question, was “an illegitimate President.” This was an unprecedented act of vicious partisanship and unethical public service. Worse, Lewis’s statement was intentionally racially divisive, timed to appear the day before Martin Luther King Day, and less than a week before the Inauguration. Imagine the bipartisan fury that a similar pronouncement by a white Congressman would have (justly) attracted in January, 2009. But double standards are “in” this year, if you are a progressive, a Democrat, or just someone who wants to weaken the United States of America and make certain that the recent election results in a calamity.
Lewis, as he has much of his tenure in the House, was relying on his status as a civil rights icon 60 years ago to immunize him from the consequences of his actions. In other words, he was depending on Rationalization #11, The King’s Pass, that particularly corrosive rationalization—it is also called “The Star Syndrome”— which holds that distinguished figures who should be role models must be allowed to get away with conduct that anyone less prominent would be punished for. The King’s Pass wrecks companies and sports teams, allows sexual predator Presidents to get away with lying under oath, and is one of the many reasons the world doesn’t work very well. In addition to showing that “laws are for the little people,” abusers of status like Lewis stand for the proposition that ethics are just for little people too.
Martin Luther King’s associates and lieutenants have been particularly prolific in exploiting The King’s Pass. Jesse Jackson proved himself to be a venal race hustler, but was insulated from the criticism he deserved by virtue of his civil rights era bona fides. Worse yet was the late Marion Barry, a cynical and corrupt mayor of Washington, D.C., whose loyal African American supporters treated him as if he could do no wrong. Police arresting him for smoking crack the same week he lectured schoolchildren on the evils of drugs was widely condemned by his supporters as racially motivated.
Our juvenile and impulsive President-Elect, sadly but predictably, reacted to Lewis’s irresponsible attack by tweeting a “shut up and do your job” response. “He’s a counter-puncher, ” explained Corey Lewandowski , the ex-Trump campaign manager who virtually counter-punched a reporter when she tried to ask the candidate a question at a rally. No, he’s a fool, but Trump’s unpresidential tweeting doesn’t excuse or validate Lewis’s conduct. “Fury Builds as Civil Rights Icon Is Denigrated” headlines today’s Times, growing more biased and inflammatory by the day. Lewis was intentionally trying to spark fury as well as partisan and racial division, and he earned that denigration, because it was unpatriotic, unstatesmanlike, and willfully destructive.
It only seems less so because so many in Lewis’s party are behaving almost as poorly. Continue reading