Finley: Trump is no John Dingell

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Merle Haggard recorded a song 50 years ago with the lyric, “If you’re running down our country, man, you’re walking on the fighting side of me.”

U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr.

I feel the same way about John Dingell.

To accuse President Donald Trump of crossing a line Wednesday night in suggesting the late Dearborn congressman was “looking up” from hell at his campaign rally in Battle Creek is pointless. Trump lives on the other side of the lines of civility and decency. There’s no shaming him. 

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In that and every other way, he couldn’t be more different than John Dingell.

Dingell, the longest serving congressman in U.S. history, was not a saint. He had a fiery temper and could play smashmouth politics on the muddiest field.

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

But he was something Trump will never be: a gentleman. 

Trump has slammed the accelerator of incivility to the floor. He has tissue thin skin and a mafia boss’ sense of honor. Every slight must receive a tenfold response, every slighter must be crushed. 

He targeted Dingell before the GOP base in Michigan because his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, spoke out in favor of impeachment. Trump considered that a personal betrayal because he’d granted special privileges for John Dingell’s funeral in February. 

Debbie Dingell is a Democrat. And a politician. John Dingell understood the difference between personal and political. Some of his dearest friends sat on the other side of the aisle and were also his fiercest opponents. He and I loved each other despite being political polar opposites. 

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.

Trump does not have the capability of making that distinction. He represents a dangerous and disgusting movement in America that is infusing politics with hate, one that encourages us to dehumanize those with whom we disagree. 

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To its credit, the crowd in Battle Creek was muted in its response to the Dingell jab. Trashing John Dingell is not a winning message in Michigan. And it sure won’t help him woo the independents he’ll need to capture the state in November. 

People here understand how hard Dingell fought for them. Whether they are Republican or Democrat, they recognized him as a selfless public servant, a humble and kind man, and an honorable one. 

Will anyone say the same of Donald Trump when it’s his turn to look up or down from eternity?

Catch Nolan Finley on “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.