The day began with Trump floating the idea of delaying the election in a tweet that almost everyone who has followed his presidency had expected.
In eulogizing Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero who was beaten to the edge of death while securing voting rights for African Americans, Barack Obama also offered the most prominent accounting so far of the racial awakening following the death of George Floyd.
Obama’s speech offered liberals the kind of inspiration they have lacked since he left office, his reappearance could also serve to embolden voters who saw in Trump a vehicle for their backlash against Obama’s presidency.
There are already complaints on conservative Twitter that Obama hijacked the funeral to mount a divisive political speech, ironic considering Lewis’ life story and legacy.
Trump did not travel to honor Lewis, a man who he once decried as “talk, talk, talk, — no action.” But two other ex-presidents chose their side of history — Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton also spoke at the service.
Obama placed Trump in the lineage of old Deep South bigots, a stunningly explicit move that branded Trump’s race-baiting campaign a direct threat to the republic.
“Bull Connor may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans.
George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators…
We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power that are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”
Obama called for Senate revisions to end partisan gerrymandering and to make sure that everybody’s vote finally counts.
“And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster — another Jim Crow relic — in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”
Obama said that the lesson of Lewis’ life was that politics was the work of overcoming complacency and fear.
“That’s where real courage comes from. Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another.
Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance and discovering that in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.”