The people who fought against Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s were quite literally risking their lives. The list of martyrs is a long one. Activists of that era are rightly respected and their courage must not be forgotten or taken for granted. But as congressman John Lewis proves, their actions at that time should not provide dispensation from critique in the 21st century. Lewis is the latest target of president-elect Donald Trump’s attacks but that shouldn’t give him a pass either.
Despite his early history, Lewis now exemplifies everything that is wrong with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Democratic Party and the black misleadership class. The caucus was once known as “the conscience of the Congress.” Those men and women were always among the most left leaning members and could be counted on to reliably fight against domestic injustice and imperialism abroad. They weren’t unafraid of their party leadership or of presidents either.
But all that changed when they were targeted by big money contributors like the rest of their congressional colleagues. After years of unsuccessfully attempting to make inroads among black Americans the right wing realized their error. They began to promote compliant corporatist candidates for office and to target people like Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard for defeat. The result is now a CBC that is a shell of its former self.
Instead of providing inspirational leadership to their constituents CBC members are now mere lackeys for the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. They said nothing when Barack Obama made grand austerity bargains with Republicans, or used sanctions, jihadists and drone warfare to kill in Somalia and Libya, or when he refused to prosecute killer cops. Only one of them, Keith Ellison, chose to support Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton, and CBC’s lobbying arm gave her a hearty and undeserved endorsement.
Lewis stood out among all the genuflectors. Having been dubbed a “civil rights icon” his opinions are given undue weight and he uses them to uphold the corrupt establishment. Not only did the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation endorse Clinton but Lewis chose to give the hapless Sanders a very public beat down. Sanders used his own youthful movement activism as a political calling card but Lewis dismissed him. He claimed he knew nothing about Sanders but did know the Clintons who were great friends of black people. The effort to discredit Sanders was so obvious and the claims about the Clintons were so outrageous that Lewis was forced to back track and clarify his comments.
But, like the rest of the black misleaders, Lewis never stopped stomping on the mildly reformist Bernie Sanders. Sanders signature proposal of providing free university education was rejected out of hand by the civil rights icon.
“I think it’s the wrong message to send to any group. There’s not anything free in America. We all have to pay for something. Education is not free. Health care is not free. Food is not free. Water is not free. I think it’s very misleading to say to the American people, we’re going to give you something free.”
Of course all of those things should be free. That statement alone exposed Lewis as a rank opportunist. We don’t know what went through his mind at the moment he was beaten by cops but it doesn’t matter now. He used his experience to win a congressional seat and all the trappings that come with it, including giving paid speeches at Goldman Sachs.
Trump won the old fashioned way. He went right to the heart of white American angst about immigration and white survival and the economic insecurity that they feel they should not suffer. But he is in over his head. Trump is not only a political novice but he is thin skinned and oafish. In the case of Lewis he has turned an ordinary Democratic Party hack into a victim of the man half of the country hates.
Lewis opined that he wouldn’t attend the inauguration because he deemed Trump “illegitimate.” He reached this conclusion not because Trump lost the popular vote or stacked his cabinet with generals or appeals to outspoken white supremacists. Lewis is giving the new president the cold shoulder only because he believes that Russia interfered in the electoral process. This canard has the stamp of approval from the Democratic Party and their minions in the corporate media.
This Russophobia proves Democratic allegiance to empire and kills several political birds with one stone. The United States scores propaganda points in its endless fight against any nation that opposes their hegemony. Russia is also used to explain away the Democrats’ defeat and distract their members who won’t call the leadership to account like they ought to do.
The NSA and CIA and FBI do for Barack Obama what they do for every president. When presidents want to make the case for war or domestic oppression they tell the intelligence agency to say that there is WMD in Iraq or an imminent threat from the black liberation movement. Intelligence agencies are used as a tool of propaganda to get the public buy in to the state’s actions. The movement that spawned Lewis was the primary victim of COINTELPRO, the program used to discredit and even to kill people who fought against the system as Lewis did. The movement was crushed by the deep state but 50 years later, one of its “icons” parrots their every word.
The black misleaders feed at the trough of the party establishment and their benefactors in corporate America. Their lives and livelihoods depend on keeping the status quo alive. Lewis is a predictably bland Democrat who uses his past as a cover to commit the worst of Democratic Party wrong doing.
It shouldn’t matter what Trump thinks of Lewis. If this phony contretemps is any indication we’ll have four years of foolishness ahead of us. Any mediocre politician will be elevated to sainthood status if the defensive and paranoid president attacks. John Lewis has certainly earned his iconic status this week. As Inauguration Day approaches he presents a teachable moment. The lesson is to ignore the likes of Lewis and his ilk. They are no friends of black people and are undeserving of our support, even if Donald Trump attacks.