The mainstream media is tripping over itself in the rush to make hay out of Donald Trump’s exchange with John Lewis. “In feud with John Lewis, Donald Trump attacked ‘one of the most respected people in America,’” reads a headline in the Washington Post. The “respected people” quote is from John McCain.
Whether Lewis will still be one of the most respected people in America after declaring Trump an illegitimate president remains to be seen. I’ll discuss this question below.
First, let’s note that the Post’s reference to Sen. McCain should be a reminder that Trump’s exchange with Lewis is unlikely to hurt the new president. Many people, including me, thought that when Trump questioned the heroism of McCain, chiding him for being captured by the North Vietnamese, it might well sink his candidacy. It didn’t.
Trump’s response to Lewis was considerably milder. He simply suggested that Lewis spend more time helping his district, and said that, in this regard, Lewis is all talk and no action. “I can use all the help I can get,” Trump added.
Trump never denied Lewis’ status as hero. He never chided him for being arrested. There is nothing scandalous or even improper about what Trump wrote.
Trump’s attack on John McCain isn’t the only instance after which the media predicted dire consequences for the then-candidate. The same thing happened when Trump went after the parents of a Gold Star military member and a beauty queen. As with McCain, these attacks were more personal and more nasty than his comments about John Lewis.
Where are Khizr Khan and Alicia Mercado now? Where is Donald Trump?
Here, then, is how I think things will play out in the matter of Lewis vs. Trump:
The exchange will have no lasting impact on Trump. Either his presidency will be considered successful or it won’t be. If it’s successful, no one will care about, and few will remember, what he tweeted regarding Lewis. The same will be true if Trump’s presidency is unsuccessful, though in that event it’s conceivable that the tweets will be a footnote.
Lewis, on the other hand, has hurt his reputation. The anti-Trump forces are delighted with him, but they already viewed him as a great man.
Many of those who support Trump now think less of Lewis, and unless the Trump presidency is a disaster will continue to do so. People are starting to point out that, though Lewis acted heroically 50 years ago, he has for a very long time been a partisan hack.
Those who have mixed views about Trump or are taking a wait-and-see attitude may continue to have a high regard for Lewis. However, many probably will count his pronouncement that Trump is illegitimate against him.
Finally, let’s note that a great many Americans have no idea who Lewis is. The media will inform them of his heroism way back when. Nonetheless, his statement about Trump will make the main impression, and for many not a good one.
Lewis’ over-the-top attack on the president-elect of the United States is his introduction to a generation or two of Americans. It is his legacy for them, and now part of his legacy for the rest of us.