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Where are the "honest and wise men"?

Jan 19, 2017

Congressman Justin Amash, a Republican from Grand Rapids just starting his fourth term, is never going to be part of the good old boys and girls club that runs Congress.

He doesn’t “go along to get along,” follows his own brand of “libertarian light” conservatism, and if he hasn’t had time to read a bill or grasp its full implications, traditionally just votes “present” no matter what his party’s leadership says.

His extremely conservative positions on things like social program spending haven’t won Amash many friends among Democrats either. But he gained some new admirers earlier this week, when he took to Twitter to rebut a member of his party who was sending outrageously insulting, borderline racist tweets to one of the last surviving icons of the civil rights movement.

Dude, just stop,” Amash told him. The man being insulted was Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who got his skull fractured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for trying to help people gain the right to vote.

That anyone would insult Lewis is mind-boggling.

What makes this even harder to accept is that at noon tomorrow, the man insulting him will be sworn in as President of the United States. John Lewis won’t be at the inauguration.

Nor will John Conyers, who also marched with Martin Luther King, or dozens of other members of Congress. All across America, millions of citizens are trying to figure out how to cope with the reality of a president who we’ve seen openly bragging about sexual assault, lying with abandon, and acting like an angry 12-year-old, especially on Twitter.

This is especially jarring for those of us who grew up believing the President, whatever you thought of his policies, was somehow the embodiment of all that was sacred about our democracy.

We learned that when John Adams became the first president to move in to the White House, he told his wife, “may none but honest and wise men ever rule under its roof.

” Those words are now set into a fireplace in the state dining room; I saw them there, years ago, the one time I was invited to lunch at the White House.

The President I met there was not a man I ever voted for, but part of me revered him nevertheless as the President. That was even true of Richard Nixon, who once wrote me a letter, which is framed on my office wall today. Regardless of all he did, he was still once the President.

Things are different, and I cannot imagine feeling that way now. David Brooks, the brilliant conservative columnist of the New York Times, said he plans to write only about what the new president actually does, and ignore his clowning around on Twitter.

That’s an intriguing theory, and I might agree if this were Great Britain and Donald Trump prime minister. But in our system the President is both head of government and head of state; both king and prime minister, if you will. You cannot ignore any of it.

We are in a worrisome place. But we do have the words of the man who will wake up tomorrow morning as President for the last time. “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.