As the 2020 presidential election draws closer to a conclusion in Georgia, the state has offered a moving piece of poetic justice.
The Republican nominee has won Georgia’s electoral votes in every presidential election since 1996. But on Saturday, the initial results from Clayton County showed Democrat Joe Biden narrowly ahead of President Donald Trump in the Peach State, though a recount is expected and CNN hasn’t yet projected a winner.
It’s no surprise that Clayton’s votes overwhelmingly favor President-elect Biden, whom CNN has projected to win the presidency.
“Clayton is the most Democratic county in Georgia, even surpassing the deep-blue bastion of DeKalb in its vote percentage,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein wrote on Friday.
In the controversial 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, Democrat Stacey Abrams received 88% of Clayton’s votes and 83% of DeKalb’s.
But while the direction of Clayton’s votes isn’t shocking, the role that the county’s ballots have played in helping Biden edge ahead of Trump in Georgia has symbolic significance. That’s because for years Clayton was represented by the late civil rights leader Democratic Rep. John Lewis.
Trump began his presidency by smearing Lewis, among others.
“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Trump tweeted in January 2017, after Lewis announced that he was skipping the inauguration because he didn’t see Trump, who had lost the popular vote, as a “legitimate president.”
Lewis remained a staunch opponent of Trump.
Also in 2017, Lewis, along with Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, refused to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, citing Trump’s attendance.
“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” the two congressmen said at the time. “The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi. President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”
Lewis and Thompson added: “After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.”
In 2018, a bloc of House Democrats, including Lewis, announced a boycott of Trump’s State of the Union address.
“I cannot in all good conscience be in a room with what he has said about so many Americans. I just cannot do it,” the 17-term congressman said.
The aforementioned actions crystallized what Lewis called “good trouble” – his philosophy of nonviolent protest against injustice, regardless of the consequences.
“I tell friends and family, colleagues and especially young people that when you see something that’s not right or fair, you have to do something, you have to speak up, you have to get in the way,” Lewis said in 2018.
In its own way, Lewis’ July funeral service epitomized decency and righteousness – and in a year defined by the very opposite.
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Jamila Thompson, who was Lewis’ deputy chief of staff, spoke of the late congressman as a “gentleman” and “peaceful soul.”
“People always ask us: ‘What was it like to work for Congressman Lewis? What was he like up close? What was he like in real life?’ And it is too difficult to explain, so my answer was always the same: ‘He’s just as you may imagine, but better,’ ” said Thompson, who spoke on behalf of Lewis’ staff at the ceremony.
On Friday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reflected on Lewis’ enduring political presence.
“To have Sen. (Kamala) Harris join the ticket, and for us to be a part of changing the history of this country, I think really speaks to the legacy of John Lewis, Joseph Lowery and Dr. C.T. Vivian,” Bottoms told CNN.
Compare Lewis’ legacy with the one Trump is creating for himself. On Thursday, the President delivered a speech chockablock with false claims.
“On the verge of what appeared to be a likely defeat by former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump emerged in the press briefing room and took a blowtorch to the presidential tradition of defending the legitimacy of the democratic process,” CNN’s Daniel Dale wrote.
Given the profound damage that Trump has inflicted on so many Americans and his obsession with denigrating Lewis, it’s fitting that part of the late congressman’s district has delivered as perfect an example of “good trouble” as might be imaginable.