Home/Rod Dreher/Trump, John Lewis, And American Dissolution

Trump, John Lewis, And American Dissolution

Portland, Ore. police hold the lion against anti-Trump rioters (JPL Designs/Shutterstock)

My view is that it was irresponsible for John Lewis to say that Donald Trump is not a “legitimate” president. In this, Lewis is no better than Trump himself was when he indicated during the campaign that if he lost the election, he might not regard Hillary Clinton as legitimate. By saying these things, political partisans of both parties only hasten the crack-up of the Republic.

The greater sin, if that’s the word, was Trump’s absurd overreaction to what John Lewis said. I don’t believe that being a black man who is a Civil Rights hero, as Lewis absolutely is, gives you the right to say whatever you want to without criticism, but Trump’s fiery response was stupid, and a classic example of how the man’s thin-skinned, childish temperament renders him dangerous in the presidency. Nixon’s paranoia undid his presidency; it’s unnerving to think what may lie ahead with this one. I mostly agree with Michael Gerson on the Trump vs. Lewis fight:

It must be said that the whole business of questioning a president’s right to hold office is pernicious. It puts a hard stop on all civility and cooperation. The worst instance, of course, was the claim that Barack Obama was Kenyan-born and disqualified to be president — an argument based on partisan, conspiratorial and quasi-racist lies enthusiastically spread by Trump. When the president-elect calls out Lewis on this topic, it is a display of hypocrisy so large that it is visible from space.

Ain’t that the truth. More:

Trump often justifies his attacks as counterpunching. Even a glancing blow seems to merit a nuclear response. But this is the exact opposite of the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, and of the principled nonviolence of the civil rights movement. In these systems of thought, the true victory comes in absorbing a blow with dignity, even with love. It is the substance of King’s message. It is the essence of a cruciform faith.

This is not always easy to translate into politics. But a president-elect attacking a hero of the civil rights movement less than a week before he takes the oath of office is not normal. There is some strange inversion of values at work. Because Vladimir Putin praises him, Trump defends Putin. Because Lewis criticizes him, Trump attacks Lewis (as “talk, talk, talk — no action or results”). The only organizing principle is the degree of deference to Trump himself. It is the essence of narcissism.

This is one thing that’s so strange about Trump. He’s an extremely wealthy man who took on the entire Republican Party establishment, defeated it, then went on to win the US Presidency in a victory with world-historical implications — and still, he can’t stop himself from going to the mat with a Congressman from Atlanta, and sending out a harsh critique of an American television show that hasn’t been consistently or genuinely funny since time out of mind.

It’s clear that Trump and his enemies on the left are going to be at each other’s throats for the next four years, and turn the public square into a boxing ring. Does it presage worse to come? A reader sent in links to a long, fascinating tweetstorm in which a man named David Hines sums up what he learned from reading Bryan Burrough’s Days Of Rage, a history of violent left-wing American radicalism in the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s.

One main point in this particular tweetstorm linked above (parts 1 and 2, of 5) he makes is that that period of American life was far more violent (bombings, assassinations, etc.) than we recall, and because we have forgotten how bad it got, we fail to realize that it could get that bad again if we aren’t careful. He also points out that leaders of the radical left (e.g., the Weather Underground), despite their violence, managed to bounce back quite well in US society, because the left had an infrastructure that supported them. Hines goes on to say — again, summarizing Burrough’s book — that the radical left began to fall apart when two things happened:

1) when it finally occurred to them that the American working-class masses on whose behalf they were fighting wanted nothing more than to beat them up, and

2) when they tried to organize politically aboveground, they found that the people of color with whom they thought themselves allied didn’t want to take order from college-educated white people. According to Hines, one of the Weatherman veterans he interviewed said it upset her to be constantly called racist by others in the movement. Says Hines:

Hines says another big takeaway from his tweetstorm to that point are that political violence can come from anywhere, and that the left has the infrastructure to make it happen more than the right does, in part because there are mainstream leftist leaders who would accept it. These don’t exist on the right. If you don’t believe that the left would accept it, ask yourself where the mainstream liberal leaders were condemning the attacks by organized left-wing mobs on Trump supporters last year. And ask yourself where the mainstream liberal leaders were condemning the illiberal mob actions on many college campuses these last couple of years. Not only didn’t they stand against them, on a lot of these campuses, the liberal administration leadership capitulated to them. They’re allowing courses that teach students of all races how terrible white people and their culture is. This is what you get when you march through the institutions. These people on the left are laying the groundwork for violent, racist white reaction. As Hines says, violent reactionary whites do not have the infrastructure, so any violence they wreak will be more decentralized, and therefore harder for the government to combat.

One more from this Hines tweetstorm:

Welcome to the Women’s March 2017.

In Part III of his epic tweetstorm, Hines recalls in detail the absolutely insane revolutionary environment of the 1970s, and how having allies within the left-wing Establishment managed to save violent white radicals, but didn’t work out so well for violent black radicals. (I read about a lot of this stuff back in my student days, but I’ve forgotten about it. It’s staggering history. If you wonder where Reagan came from, this will help you understand.)

In Part IV, the one that Hines calls “the craziest of the lot,”  Hines tells the story of the FALN, Puerto Rican radicals who tried to assassinate President Truman, shot up Congress, and were still going strong through the 1970s. He talks about how its leaders colonized the Episcopal Church. Yes, liberal Christians paid these domestic terrorists and defended them in the public square. It’s an incredible story, and, says Hines, it offers a lesson on the protection you can get for yourself if you compromise institutions within the Establishment.

In Part V, the final episode of the tweetstorm, Hines asks what all of this means for us today. Excerpts:


Hines gets very dark in this series, and says that the actions of the left on Inauguration Day may prove decisive. He links to this article about how various left-wing and anarchist groups are organizing to disrupt the Trump inauguration. If that goes down in a significant way, you can bet that Trump is going to break heads over it — and that a lot of ordinary Americans are going to be on his side. There’s a report that queer protestors are going to start the ball rolling with a gay dance party outside of Vice President Mike Pence’s home. If that happens, and there is anything lewd about it, then you can bet that the Christian Right, even people who aren’t fond of Trump, will begin to migrate solidly to Trump’s side, for the reason that Peter Leithart says in his First Things piece last week: we may not share the same values as Trump, but we share the same enemies — and that’s important.

In his tweetstorm, Hines speaks to this general point, saying that if political violence kicks off, a lot of people who find the far right repulsive are going to find themselves a lot more sympathetic if the only thing standing between them minding their own business and a violent, hateful left-wing mob are right-wing radicals. Again, Hines doesn’t say that he wants any of this to happen, only that he fears we are a lot closer to it than people think — in part because we have forgotten the history that Bryan Burrough recounts in his book Days Of Rage

Read all of David Hines’s tweetstorms, in order, on this page. Trust me, it’s worth it. Seems to me that the big factor in all this is that in Donald Trump, the radical left has found not only a provocateur, but a man who, for better and for worse, will give as hard as he gets.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

leave a comment

Latest Articles