Misusing King’s Message
by Wim Laven
Date: January 16,17,18,20,2021
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was profoundly moved by injustice and inequality ubiquitous throughout the US. The question he asked about injustice in 1967, “Where do we go from here?” was answered with two options: community or chaos. The question is profoundly important in 2021.
On the holiday to celebrate King’s birth the whitewashing of his message has become an annual tradition. While Donald Trump will no longer be able to tweet a favorite quote (since his account has been permanently banned due to inciting violence, insurrection, and his constant disinformation) many of his enablers will. Leading Republicans who have not condemned the racist rhetoric need to leave MLK out of their platitudes and pronouncements. Any politician supporting caging children cannot quote King with any shred of integrity.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has stood by Trump’s side, and defended remarks dehumanizing refugees from Latin American violence as “animals.” He was silent when Trump called the entire continent of Africa “sh_thole countries.” He was complicit in the big lie that the election was stolen, and he voted to disenfranchise millions of people from their lawful votes. But when the violence actually came to him, on January 6, it was not those people of color. And it was not from the dreaded left.
Indeed, when Trump predictably lied and told McCarthy that the insurrection was “antifa,” that was a whopper too far, and McCarthy fired back, “It’s MAGA. I know. I was there.”
We are waiting, however, for most Republicans to exhibit enough conscience and remorse for their failure to remove Trump at his first impeachment, which would have disabled his abilities to commit further high crimes and misdemeanors as president. These Republicans need to speak out forcefully against the MAGA hate before they can quote King. For them, this holiday should be akin to Yom Kippur for Jews, when they are supposed to forgive others, reflect on their faults and misdeeds, vow to be better people, repent, atone, and seek forgiveness.
King’s message left no room for the violence of white-nationalists and their genocidal messages. If you want to honor King, you condemn messages like “six-million-wasn’t-enough.” This is the ideological hatred that accompanied the Trump-inspired attempted self-coup of 1/6.
In 2021 figuring out where we go requires honesty, which has been in short supply during Trump’s term—he’s given us more than 30,000 proven lies in his time in the White House.
Why did anyone vote for a border wall that everyone knew Mexico would never pay for? Trump’s lie was nothing more than a racist symbol, like a burning cross in King’s yard.
Republicans are not the only ones to speak out of both sides of their mouths, but they could not be more hypocritical in their statements on inequality and injustice. The cowardly support of the last four years of racist legislating (and lack of it) is antithetical to the love King preached.
Elected officials are at the line of scrimmage and in honor of Dr. King it is time. Will it be difficult? Of course, deep change always is, and Dr. King said it best, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
It is simply disgraceful when politicians who have done nothing in their entire careers to advance Black rights or equality provide such empty lip service. But it is truly deplorable—yes deplorable—when those who’ve maintained policies promoting racial disparities cynically draw on the greatness that Dr. King gave us.
King defended the people—the poor—they cause to suffer. King defended equal pay; McCarthy attacks it. King defended equal access; McConnell obstructs it. King pursued freedom for all; Trump championed symbols of slavery.
King said: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to the beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The gap between rich and poor grew significantly under Trump. Millions of Americans became food-insecure during the Republican mismanagement of the coronavirus. The stock market has hit all time highs on days with record deaths of coronavirus.
If we choose community over chaos, King observed that, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”
Quite frankly, I don’t want to see another King quote until these politicians promise to work for “a promised land” like Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, and start working for the Poor People’s Campaign, uniting poor Whites, Blacks, Natives, Latinx and many others in desperate need.
Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.