Today’s news is dominated by MLK and the Trump/John Lewis feud.
Did you see the ridiculous piece by the editorial board of the Washington Post that tries to claim that MLK was a champion of conservatism? Such an assessment relies on an extremist definition of liberalism. No, he didn’t advocate the violent overthrow of the government, and he challenged America to live up to its founding principles. The same could be said of Bernie Sanders. Is he therefore a conservative? Make no mistake, King’s tactics were nonviolent, and he had faith in American institutions, but his vision was radical, both in terms of race and in addressing our economic disparity.
On that note, my favorite read today is by Joshua Zeitz and was posted by Politico. (He is the author of one of my favorite books on pop cultural history, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern (2007). I highly recommend it, and it also works well in undergrad classes). The author reminds us that a large majority of contemporary Americans viewed King and the Civil Rights movement unfavorably (contrast that to today when almost everyone tries to claim him for their cause–see above), that in his later years he took on the Vietnam War, housing discrimination and economic disparity, and that by the end of his life he was becoming overwhelmed by the work and the growing factionalism of the movement. It is “The MLK History Forgot.” Excellent piece.
The MLK holiday has never been completely embraced, and even today there is still pushback to it. The New York Times has an article on the history of the holiday, revealing the opposition it has faced, and the absolutely nonsensical ways that some states and communities still try to tie the day with memorialization of the Confederacy (including my home state of Alabama).
So Trump had planned to mark the holiday by going to the new Smithsonian African American History and Culture Museum, but after his weekend Twitter attack on John Lewis, he backed out. (Nice indication that you honestly intend to heal our racial divides, Trump). Instead, he welcomed the oldest son of MLK to Trump Tower to discuss race relations and his father’s legacy. Not a bad publicity stunt, but he probably would have been better served to go to the museum, because he clearly had no idea who John Lewis was when he first launched his “no action” assault on a bonafide American hero. The good news: Martin Luther King III apparently gave Trump a history lesson on John Lewis during the meeting.
The good news about the feud: it has brought a lot of attention to Lewis and his remarkable story. His books shot to the top of Amazon’s sales, and television and the internet have been full of stories detailing his lifetime of action. Perhaps the best response of all came from Lewis himself, as he seemingly responded to Trump (without ever mentioning his name) simply by telling the story of his life.
Of course Lewis sparked the feud himself by declaring that he would not attend the inauguration because he could not see Trump as a legitimate president (because of Russian interference in the election). I totally get that, and support Lewis and the other Democrats who have decided to stand with the American hero by also refusing to attend. More power to them. I also fully support the Women’s March of protest that will take place the next day and is sizing up to the one of the largest in our history (I’m betting it will be the largest). In fact I wish I could attend. Such activism is in the spirit of MLK and historically has been responsible for repeatedly forcing this nation to live up to its ideals.
And yet, I am disturbed by all this talk about people organizing to disrupt the inauguration events. We do not have to support Trump to respect the process of our democracy. The peaceful transfer of power in this country is perhaps the most important bedrock on which our government is founded and what made it truly exceptional at its founding (as Obama pointed out to people that booed the mention of Trump in his farewell address). That should be respected and even celebrated on Inauguration Day. This isn’t 1861. We must have faith in our democracy and allow it to function properly, because in the end, it is those democratic and constitutional functions that will allow us to prevent a Trump oligarchy (and perhaps ultimately to impeach him if this Russian thing gets bigger, or if he does something else that warrants it—I’m guessing he will). So celebrate that our democracy allows for a peaceful transition of power, but that it also allows us to hold our elected officials accountable.
And Comrade Trump, you can bet we will.