Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Count on Trump making another ritual declaration on the Martin Luther King holiday about how much he liked, admired, and even thought Dr. King was such a great guy. Here’s what he’s 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 he tried a repeat photo-op tout of King at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi a couple of years ago, there was a storm of outrage. Trump got the message and opted instead to say a few words at a private event away 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 hammering at the city’s cast iron Jim Crow laws. The snarling police dogs, water hoses and blood thirsty club welding racist police assailing demonstrators made global headlines. This was the single biggest event that pushed the Kennedy administration to step up its efforts to smash the foot drag in Congress on passage of his Civil Rights Bill.
During a rally in Birmingham in 2017, Trump egged on the crowd that hooted and howled and whooped it up at the physical and verbal assault on a Black protester. Trump then followed that up with a tweet on phony and doctored Black crime figures that were so racist that even some staunch conservatives cringed at the ploy. They didn’t buy his lame, partial walk back excuse that he was simply retweeting what a supporter sent him.
Trump was oblivious to this. His unapologetic race baiting has become a big part of what rocket-launched him to the front of the GOP presidential pack and at a couple of points when he slid a bit, launched him right back to the front. But really, the only difference in what Trump has done with naked race baiting and what legions of other GOP presidential candidates and presidents from Nixon to George W. Bush, and GOP state and local candidates and elected officials have done with race is that his is blatant and in-your-face. The others were subtle, sneaky and loaded with emotional hot button code words and phrases that were designed to stoke the racial fires to win and maintain office.
Trump touched the same deep racial nerve that King touched when he targeted Birmingham in his campaign in 1963. The nerve was white fears about the future and the direction of the country, and the horrid thought of losing grip on their numbers and power. GOP politicians in the years after King’s death erected a storehouse of stock code words and phrases such as “law and order,” “crime in the streets,” “welfare cheats,” “affirmative action hires,” “bloated government spending,” and so on to pander to those fears.
Trump wasted no time once in office in trying to deliver the wrecking ball to former President Obama’s civil rights and economic fairness initiatives from scrapping his executive orders, appointment of unreconstructed bigots and hard line conservatives to judgeships, government agencies, and the attempted complete demolish of the Affordable Care Act.
The reform measures that Obama pushed forth, King in one form or another had fought for and attained. The outlaw of de jure segregation of public schools, the upholding of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in public accommodations; including schools, housing, at the workplace, and in facilities that served the public. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited states and localities from imposing voting restrictions resulting in racial discrimination and empowered the federal Justice Department to enforce regulations. Trump has ruthlessly attacked these judicial and legislative victories.
Trump would present a thorny challenge for King today. He’d have to again spend much time leading mass protests against Trump’s race baiting maneuvers, and just as much time countering through lobbying and cajoling the Democrats, and congressional leaders to expand civil rights protections and the slash and burn of vital health, education, and job programs. All of which are under assault from 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 gains that he and other civil rights leaders waged the brutal battles of the 1960s to put in place.
Every action that King took to counter Trump’s assaults, Trump would lambaste him with a barrage of tweets. I guarantee none of which would be hailing him as a “great man.” That’s why I’ll gag when Trump lies again about loving King.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Fifty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts (Middle Passage Press) Free Amazon Reading Wednesday January 15. https://www.amazon.com/50-Years-Later-Murder-Still-ebook/dp/B079JYS4BT
He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.