The ugly squabble between the president-elect and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) over the weekend offers a glimpse into how bad things will get.
Lewis earned his icon status on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. But over the years, he’s traded some of his moral capital for partisan chips, insinuating that only the Democratic Party has ownership of the civil rights era and its victories, despite the fact that a higher share of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than Democrats. Indeed, the goons who cracked Lewis’ skull on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were acting at the behest of a Democratic governor and Democratic local officials. Even the bridge was named after a Democrat.
In 2008, Lewis saw nothing wrong with comparing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to the segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace. He did it again in 2012, insinuating that voting for Mitt Romney might lead America to “go back” to the days of fire hoses, police dogs and church bombings.
This was not idealism, but poisonous cynicism, and it helped contribute to the feelings of resentment that were so essential to Trump’s victory. Now, Lewis is going further still, arguing that Trump cannot be a legitimate president because of Russian meddling in the election. Lewis may have reason to believe that Trump did not win fair and square, but questioning Trump’s legitimacy is exactly what the Russians probably wanted from the beginning: to undermine Western and American faith and confidence in democracy.
Of course, Trump made things worse. He attacked Lewis, saying the congressman “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.” instead of “falsely complaining about the election results.” Predictably, Democrats rallied behind Lewis, who’s basically the party’s living saint, and they’re already fundraising off the spectacle.
The Democrats will stop baiting Trump when he shows he can refuse the bait. Which means they won’t stop.
There’s an almost literary quality to Trump’s insecurities; he craves respect more than almost anything else, and yet respect remains agonizingly elusive — in part because he takes everything too personally.
The presidency, normally a job for people with thick skins and a nose for insincere flattery, promises to only heighten Trump’s sense of entitlement to respect and exacerbate his inevitable resentment when he doesn’t receive it. So we’ll continue on divided, angry and untrusting.