Always go to the funeral. That was the rule, and it was non-negotiable. “Going to the funeral is the least you can do,” my mother would say. “You show up to show your respect, because it is the right thing to do.”
On July 17, Congressman John Lewis, Civil Rights icon and revered leader on both sides of the political aisle, died from pancreatic cancer. His body lies in-state in the Capitol rotunda. When asked if he would be attending the ceremony or stopping by the Capitol to pay his respects, President Trump said unequivically, “No, I won’t be going, no.”
Always go to the funeral, my mother said. How hard would it have been for the president to stop by the rotunda, to do the right thing, to pay his respects — respect John Lewis inarguably earned — to one of the last living leaders of the Civil Rights Movement?
And yet sadly, we are not surprised, because rarely does this president choose to do the right thing, the hard thing, the presidential thing, the thing that would bring comfort and peace.
Consider the state of unrest and pain in this country since the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. How hard would it have been for the president to talk about police brutality or systemic racism, to listen to communities in pain, to say the words “I am listening, I hear you, how can I help”?
How hard is it for President Trump to calm tensions, to bring peace, to say the words Black Lives Matter?
Apparently, too hard.
It has been widely reported that a Russian military intelligence unit was offering the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and allied troops. On July 29, Axios reported “Trump has spoken to Putin at least eight times since intelligence about the alleged Russian bounties was reportedly included in the President’s Daily Brief — his written intelligence briefing — in late February.” When asked if he has ever asked Putin about the bounties, the president replied, “I have never discussed it with him.”
How hard is it for President Trump to tell a hostile power not to pay bonuses for killing American soldiers?
Apparently, too hard.
And then there is Covid-19. I keep reading news from other countries like New Zealand, where the federal government led from day one. Schools and workplaces have opened. They can already have weddings, funerals, sporting events, and concerts. Imagine (can you even imagine?) this.
But unlike New Zealand, our president chose to slough-off his responsibilities and turn everything over to the states: 50 states with 50 different plans. We are now more than four months in, with 150,000 deaths and counting. Here in Kentucky, some businesses are closing again. Travel is strongly discouraged. We do not know if or when schools will open. We cannot have sports or weddings or funerals. We are still — inexplicably, still — arguing about wearing masks and not crowding into bars.
How hard would it have been, back in February, for the president to pull all of the governors together with Drs. Fauci and Birx and Redfield, and lead with a singular, centralized plan? How hard would it have been for him to work with the states instead of fighting with them about everything from PPE to opening for church on Easter Sunday?
How hard would it have been, from the start, for him to lead by example and wear a damn mask?
Apparently, too hard.
We cannot, as my mother would say, go to the funerals. But we can do what the president seemingly cannot: We can show up and show respect. We can do what is right.
So, let us pray for the souls of George Floyd and Congressman John Lewis. Let us pray for everyone fighting to make Black Lives Matter. Let us pray that no U.S. soldier is killed for a bounty because our president lacks courage. Let us pray for the 150,000 families who are suffering, families our president never mentions.
I leave you with the words of Robert F. Kennedy from the extemporaneous eulogy he shared the night of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s death: What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of injustice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or black… Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago, “to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of the this world.”