The Legacy of Martin Luther King In The Age Of Trump
The famous quote above contain words of timeless truth from a man who transcended his time and circumstances and practiced everything he preached. For an African American man and his people living under the oppression and hate of Jim Crow and segregation, it could have been very easy to address the resultant frustration with anger, reciprocated hate, and even violence. Martin Luther King Jr. instead chose peaceful protest with words of hope, love, and dreams of mountaintops. His refusal to hate resonated with our nation and spurred the climb toward true equality to be an America more reflective of the words of Declaration of Independence.
That climb has been slow indeed but steady nonetheless, even in the face of constant push back from those that long for the “good old days” of white privilege. One might have thought that the election of our country’s first African American President that ultimately served two terms and left office enjoying historically high popularity was the realization of Dr. King’s vision. To be sure, the election of Barack Obama was a historic milestone in our nation’s history, but it ultimately awakened a festering element in the United States that was appalled by the idea of a black POTUS and yearned for a past where this would have been inconceivable.
This exemplary husband, father, and highly educated life long public servant for whom no one could find legitimate dirt on to discredit him, was mercilessly attacked in an effort to try to turn him in the eyes of the public into a radical, angry black man, a boogeyman of sorts; led by none other than Donald Trump, the biggest peddler of the clearly debunked birther conspiracy that questioned the country of the President’s birth. These attacks went far beyond the realm of ideological and policy differences (recall the affectionate fist bump with candidate Obama’s wife Michele that a Fox News anchor called a “terrorist fist bump”)
As the country recovered from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression and experienced the steady and statesmanlike hand of President Obama’s leadership, the attempted caricatures of the President and contrived “scandals’ did not stick with the general public. This made the minority racist underbelly of the country evermore furious. Since these people by in large find their home in the base of the republican party, the stage was set for a republican presidential primary that would actually give a man like Donald Trump a chance to win and Donald Trump did not disappoint in feeding and capitalizing on their anger.
While Dr. King lived under trying circumstances for his family and his people in the throws of racial injustice, life taught Donald Trump a very different lesson having grown up in the ultimate lap of both economic and racial privilege. While black people suffered inequality and lack of opportunity, Trump never really knew the word “no,” and yet rather than express gratitude for his privilege, Trump instead chose to attack and scapegoat.
As much as Martin Luther King Jr. drove home his message of light combating darkness and love overcoming hate, Donald Trump embodied the darkness and the hate. From insulting and denigrating Muslims and immigrants to ridiculing and insulting his opponents or anyone who dared critique him while fomenting violence against protesters at his rallies, to constantly attacking and discrediting our free press; the message of Donald Trump had zero light or love.
The emergence of a flawed and polarizing candidate on the democratic side gave us now President Donald Trump, albeit in a popular vote that still received 3 million less votes than Hillary Clinton. In a seemingly impossible fashion, President Trump is even worse than candidate Trump. Giving white supremacists in Charlottesville the moral equivalent of those who protested them, supporting an anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and sexual predator candidate for the Alabama Senate seat, ending DACA, implementing a Muslim ban, most recently proclaiming that we should restrict the immigration of people from “shithole” countries in Africa in favor of nice, white countries like Norway; could not be more antithetical to deeds and vision of Martin Luther King Jr. For the majority of America, it was cringe-worthy to then watch Trump read his prepared statements praising the life of Martin Luther King on the Eve of the weekend commemorating his legacy.
The republican base, on the other hand, remains unswayed in their love of Trump, as it is clear that their vision for the nation falls more in line with the racism, xenophobia, and hate of their chosen leader than with the vision equality, love, and hope espoused by Dr. King. Rather than expressing revulsion at the statements and actions of Trump, they celebrate him for being just like them and unapologetically speaking just like they do at their dinner tables.
Celebrate as they will, it will prove to be a fleeting celebration, as a coalition of the decent will ultimately win the day. It has already begun with the rejection of a controversial, hard right wing Senate candidate in the deep red state Alabama, in favor of democrat Doug Jones who prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan perpetrators of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four African American girls. The era of Trump will prove to be little more than a set back for Dr. King’s vision of America as we strive ever closer toward the mountaintop.