If you’re going to play the victim, make sure you’re really victimized.
That’s the lesson that I hope conservative CNN commentator and radio host Ben Ferguson learned after criticizing Rep. John Lewis for describing Donald Trump as an “illegitimate president.”
Ferguson said it was “unprecedented” for the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon to challenge Trump’s legitimacy. “I can’t imagine the fallout, the backfire that you would have if a Republican ever implied that about Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or JFK or anyone else for that matter,” Ferguson said.
Ah, how soon we forget.
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“Ben, Ben, Ben, that’s exactly what many Republicans did,” CNN host Poppy Harlow interrupted, “including the president-elect for years questioning the legitimacy of the first black president.”
Indeed, who can forget how Trump began in 2011 to build what later became his political base by promoting the so-called “birther” conspiracy theories, which without evidence – but with more than a whiff of racism – challenged the validity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and citizenship?
Why did Lewis not see Trump as a “legitimate president”?
“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected,” Lewis told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”
No wonder Trump was outraged by Lewis’ challenge to his legitimacy. If anything really gets under President-elect Donald Trump’s skin, it is a taste of his own medicine.
Now he knows how it feels to have his legitimacy questioned, despite his best efforts to tell us otherwise.
To be fair, intelligence sources say ample evidence shows that Russians, possibly with President Vladimir Putin’s blessing, sewed serious mischief by hacking U.S. emails. But, so far, officials assure us that no actual votes were changed.
Without hard evidence to the contrary, I’m ready to grit my teeth and accept Trump as our legitimate president for the sake of national unity, just as I hoped America would unite behind President Barack Obama, whether they voted for him or not.
I also suspect that Lewis, not being a stupid man by any means, knows Trump is “legitimate,” at least in the constitutionally legal sense. But moral legitimacy? That’s in the eye of the beholder.
Therefore, I understand the rough justice to Trump Lewis’ sentiments present. A lot of hard feelings endure from Trump’s relentless challenges to Obama legitimacy as president. Once again, it appeared, a man of color was being told to walk a longer mile than his predecessors, who all happened to be white.
Trump didn’t help himself with his Twitter tirade about Lewis during the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, no less. “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district,” he tweeted , “which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to … mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!”
What’s really sad is Trump’s attempt to dismiss Lewis as “all talk, talk, talk,” which only reveals the big-bucks developer and reality TV host’s ignorance of the landmark civil rights improvements that Lewis helped to bring about at great personal sacrifice, a quality Trump has yet to show in his own public life.
And Lewis’ district, which includes most of Atlanta, has some impoverished sections but it also includes Emory University, Morehouse University and upscale neighborhoods like the famous Buckhead.
Forty percent of the district’s residents have college degrees, according to 2015 Census Bureau figures cited by PolitiFact. That’s way ahead of the state average of 28.8 percent and the national average of 29.8 percent.
But the existence of social and economic success in a district represented by a liberal black man apparently doesn’t fit in Trump’s urban narrative, which seems to have been shaped by 1970s black-exploitation movies.
Trump seldom has let facts get in the way of a good smear job, and he’s not about to stop now, even as he is about to become president.
Still, as good Americans, we should support our newly elected president in good faith, even as we criticize his ways — and look ahead to the next election.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.