KRAKOW, Poland (AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson has condemned recent outbursts by President Donald Trump targeting lawmakers of color and inner cities as “dangerous, divisive and diversionary” and says he believes they are fueling white nationalist extremism.
In an interview, the longtime civil rights leader called Trump’s vilification of African Americans an attempt to divert the nation’s attention from its real problems, including Russian election interference, border detentions and a tax cut benefiting the richest Americans at the expense of the poor.
“The real debate is that a foreign power is expected to be involved in our election next year,” Jackson said, referring to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s warning of a repeat of Russian interference in the 2020 elections.
Jackson, a protégé of the Rev. Martin Luther King and two-time presidential candidate, spoke to The Associated Press in Poland ahead of a visit Friday to Auschwitz-Birkenau to honor Roma victims of the Nazi German genocide. As a leading symbol of a civil rights movement that brought vast progress to African Americans, Jackson was enthusiastically welcomed by young Roma activists and survivors — members of a community who face entrenched marginalization in Europe.
Now 77 years old and struggling with Parkinson’s disease, Jackson no longer has the physical strength of before. But he maintains a keen interest in politics and on Friday was deeply engaged in his reflections on the Holocaust. After many hours of meetings with survivors, he returned for a private tour of the camp, pressing his guide for more details. He said he had spent two weeks before his trip reading up on the plight of the Roma people and tragedy of a genocide that is barely known in the world.
In personal musings on the sideline of the ceremony, he repeatedly commented on how the systematic killings at Auschwitz-Birkenau were the work of an advanced society and expressed anxieties at the growth of Holocaust denial today. The Nazis killed some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in Auschwitz, which is now a museum and memorial site.
On Trump, he said he finds no subtlety at all in the president’s attacks on people of color, including recently on four congresswomen and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. Jackson was informed during lunch of a recent break-in at Cummings’ home, shaking his head and commenting that it was probably the fruit of growing racism and resentment that he believes was growing silently in the Obama years.
Trump’s “strategy is overt. It is not subtle,” Jackson, the founder of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, said.
Despite the new challenges, Jackson said he remains true to the principals of peaceful resistance and doesn’t want to get dragged into trading insults with Trump or anyone else, believing that maintaining the moral high ground is key to progress. Taking an eye for an eye leaves both sides blind, the Baptist pastor said.
“You can’t fight fire with fire and expect to put it out,” he said.
And he still likes to spin the kind of rhyming slogans that he is famous for. Once it was “hope not dope.” Now he likes to say that “it wasn’t just WikiLeaks, it’s also Trickileaks,” referring to gerrymandering and other ways the black vote is being suppressed in the United States.