President Donald Trump refused to say whether he found the civil rights icon John Lewis impressive, grumbling that the longtime Democratic congressman and voting rights pioneer didn’t come to his inauguration or State of the Union addresses.
After saying “I hope the answer to that question is no,” Trump attempted to deflect when confronted with the facts that Black men disproportionately die at the hands of police compared to whites.
“OK, if that’s the number, it speaks to something that to me is unacceptable,” Trump said in the interview, which aired Monday night on HBO.
The president, however, wouldn’t definitively say that systemic racism exists. Instead, he fell back to his well-worn talking points about passing criminal justice reform and creating “opportunity zones” in order to repeat his claim that he’s done more for Black Americans than any other president outside of the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln.
“You really—you believe you did more than Lyndon Johnson, who passed the Civil Rights Act?” an incredulous Swan asked.
“I think I did, yeah,” Trump shot back, citing criminal and prison reform.
Swan noted that Johnson passed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, something that apparently left Trump unimpressed.
“Take a look at what Lyndon Johnson did,” Trump huffed. “How has it worked out? Because, frankly, it took a long time.”
“You think that was a mistake?” Swan wondered aloud as Trump rambled on about his own personal achievements.
After the president finished patting himself on the back about how Black Americans “were doing better than they had ever done in the history of this country” under his administration, Swan turned the conversation to Lewis.
“John Lewis is lying in state in the U.S. Capitol,” he asked. “How do you think history will remember John Lewis?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know John Lewis,” Trump replied, adding: “He chose not to come to my inauguration. He chose—I don’t—I never met John Lewis actually, I don’t believe.”
Swan continued to press the issue, asking the president—who once called the civil rights legend “all talk, no action”—if he found Lewis impressive.
“I can’t say one way or the other,” Trump, who skipped Lewis’ memorial services, said. “I find a lot of people impressive. I find many people not impressive. But no, he didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches, and that’s OK. That’s his right. And, again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have. He should’ve come. I think he made a big mistake. I think he should’ve come.”
Swan attempted one more time to give Trump an opportunity to say something nice about the man whose skull was fractured marching for the right to vote. The president offered the slightest of compliments.
“But taking your relationship with him out of it,” the Axios reporter asked. “Do you find his story impressive, what he’s done for this country?”
“He was a person that devoted a lot of energy and a lotta heart to civil rights,” Trump shrugged before adding: “But there were many others also.”