On the Martin Luther King Holiday, expect President Trump to make more blatantly false declarations about how much he liked and admired Dr. King.
Here’s what Trump has said publicly: King is “a man I have studied, watched and admired for my entire life.” On King Day in January 2017, during a perfunctory photo-op with King’s son, MLK III, he called Dr. King “a great man”
When the president tried a photo-op at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi nearly 12 months later, there was a storm of outrage. Trump had gotten the message and opted instead to say a few words at a private event far from the main ceremony.
During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump showed how much he “admired” King, starting in the city that King put on history’s map in 1963. That city was Birmingham, Alabama. For weeks King led protests, marches and boycotts there, hammering away at the city’s cast-iron Jim Crow laws. The snarling police dogs, water hoses and bloodthirsty, club-welding racist officers assailing demonstrators made global headlines. This was the event that pushed the Kennedy administration to step up its efforts to get Congress to pass his Civil Rights Bill.
During a rally in Birmingham in 2017, Trump egged on a mostly white crowd that had physically and verbally assaulted a black protester. Trump then followed that up with a tweet about what proved to be phony black crime figures that were so racist that even some staunch conservatives cringed at the ploy.
Trump’s unapologetic race baiting has become a big part of what launched him to the front of the GOP presidential pack, and it is what keeps him there. But really, the only difference in what Trump has done with naked race baiting and what legions of other GOP federal, state and local candidates and officials have done is the president’s in-your-face approach to most things, including race. The others are more subtle and sneaky, using hot-button code words and phrases designed to stoke racial fears and keep them in office.
Trump harnessed the same deep racial fears that King targeted for extinction in Birmingham during the campaign of 1963 — white fears about the direction of the country and the possibility of losing political power. In the years after King’s death, GOP politicians developed an array of code words and phrases, such as “law and order,” “crime in the streets,” “welfare cheats,” “affirmative action hires,” “bloated government spending,” and so on, in order to pander to those fears and keep them alive.
Once in office, Trump wasted no time in trying to wreck former President Obama’s civil rights and economic fairness initiatives — from scrapping his executive orders and appointing unreconstructed bigots to the federal bench and government agencies to efforts to demolish the Affordable Care Act, Trump has ruthlessly attacked nearly all of Obama’s judicial, legislative and organizational victories.
Trump would present a thorny challenge to King if he were alive. For starters, King would be forced to spend much time leading mass protests against Trump’s race-baiting maneuvers. He would also have to lobby and cajole Democrats and congressional leaders to protect civil rights as well as vital health, education and job programs, all of which are presently under assault by Trump.
King would loudly speak out on the continuing ills of poverty, wealth inequality and Trump’s attempt to roll back the civil rights and economic victories that he and other civil rights leaders laid down their lives to win.
Every action that King took to counter Trump’s assaults, Trump would lambaste him with a barrage of tweets. And I guarantee none of them would be hailing him as a “great man.”
That’s why I’ll be gagging when Trump once again lies about loving King.
(For more on King Day celebrations, please visit page 13.)
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Fifty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts” (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on Radio One, and host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.