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Trump is no MLK admirer

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Count on Trump making another ritual declaration on the Martin Luther King holiday about how much he liked, admired, and thought Dr. King was such a great guy. He’s said publicly that King is “a man I have studied, watched, and admired for my entire life.”  On MLK Day in 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 at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, 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 Birmingham, Alabama, the city that King put on history’s map in 1963. 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 bloodthirsty, club-wielding 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 2017 rally in Birmingham, Trump egged on the crowd that hooted and whooped it up at the physical and verbal assault of a black protester. Trump followed that up with a tweet on phony and doctored black crime figures that was so racist, even some staunch conservatives cringed at the ploy. They didn’t buy his lame, partial walk-back that he was simply retweeting what a supporter sent him.

Trump was oblivious to this. His unapologetic race-baiting was 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 between 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 Trumps is blatant and in-your-face. The others were subtle, sneaky and loaded with hot-button code words and phrases 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 whites’ fears about the future of the country, and the horrid thought of losing their grip on 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.

Once in office, Trump wasted no time in trying to deliver the wrecking ball to former President Obama’s civil rights and economic fairness initiatives, scrapping Obama’s executive orders, appointing unreconstructed bigots and hardline conservatives to judgeships and government agencies, and attempting complete demolition of the Affordable Care Act.

The reform measures that Obama pushed forth, King in one form or another had fought for and attained. The outlawing of de jure segregation of public schools, the upholding of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in public accommodations, including schools, housing, workplace and 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. King would speak out loudly on the continuing ills of poverty and wealth inequality and on Trump’s attempt to roll back the civil rights and economic gains that King and other civil rights leaders waged the brutal battles of the 1960s to put in place.

For every action King took to counter Trump’s assaults, Trump would lambaste him with a barrage of tweets, none of which, I guarantee, 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.

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