Tributes have been coming in from various public figures about the eminently admirable civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, who died on Friday at 80 years old, and they have ranged from the poignant to the transparently performative.
Former President Barack Obama, who awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, shared a heartfelt statement on Saturday about how his own life was impacted by the former congressman.
I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made.
In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.
Obama added that the last public forum he shared with Lewis was a virtual townhall with young people protesting racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police.
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did,” wrote Obama.
Meanwhile, the current president issued a short and perfunctory statement about Lewis on Twitter on Saturday, saying he was “saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing.”
Trump keeping it cute and nearly mute in regards to Lewis is honestly fine by me—the name of such a good and decent man shouldn’t be battered about by people diametrically opposed to the values he fought his whole life for.
Speaking of which: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—a man who has consistently shown enmity to one of the core aspects of Lewis’ legacy, voting rights—issued a statement promptly on Friday about the congressman’s death.
“Our great nation’s history has only bent towards justice because great men like John Lewis took it upon themselves to help bend it,” said McConnell, leaving it unsaid that he is one of the men who has been committed to bending the arc the other way.
McConnell wasn’t the only Republican to rush to associate himself with Lewis and his goodwill; two senators didn’t even pause to make sure they were actually talking about him.
Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida tweeted that “it was an honor to know and serve in Congress with John Lewis,” alongside a picture that featured former Representative Elijah Cummings, who died last year.
As the above screenshot shows, Rubio was so earnest to illustrate how much he allegedly cared about Lewis that he also changed his Twitter profile picture to the one of himself and Cummings. After people called him out on his offensive and transparent mix-up, Rubio changed his profile photo and dug up video proof that he stood next to Lewis once.
Dan Sullivan, a Republican senator from Alaska, made the same mistake as Rubio. According to CNN, he posted a picture on Facebook of himself and Cummings along with a statement supposedly about honoring Lewis.
“Senator Sullivan’s staff made a mistake trying to honor an American legend,” a spokesperson for his office told CNN.
While I am already exhausted from this posturing by politicians who clearly don’t really recognize the values Lewis defended with his life—or recognize him, for that matter—I hope he is able to rest in peace as those of us who do carry on the baton of his fight for justice and equity.