As Americans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many reflected on the words of this great civil rights leader. In 1964, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work combating racial injustice through acts of nonviolence and civil disobedience. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Now, 50 years later, Dr. King's words still inspire and animate the spirit of equality for all, no matter one's race, creed, color or place of birth. "I have a dream," Dr. King said at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Yet today we have a president who uses race to divide the country in order to pander to many of his supporters. Today we have an inarticulate president who bullies and blusters anyone who threatens or challenges him. We have a president who does not appeal to our better angels, rather who demonically fans the flames of hatred and fear. Dr. King once warned, "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear."
Since its founding, America has stood as a beacon of hope and freedom for those who live outside its borders. That beacon has been tarnished by President Donald Trump. Last week, in a private meeting with congressmen about immigration, he asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Dr. King once said, "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
President Trump has often made conscientiously stupid comments. "When Mexico sends its people," he said in announcing his candidacy for president, "they're not sending their best...they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people." As a candidate for president, following a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, he declared, "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representative can figure out what in the hell is going on." King once observed, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
More than a dozen women have made sexual misconduct allegations against Trump. Throughout his career he has demeaned women. "If I were running 'The View', I'd fire Rosie O'Donnell," he said in 2006, "I mean look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I'd say 'Rosie, you're fired." As the host of The Apprentice he observed, ""All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me--consciously or unconsciously, that's to be expected." And he was recorded on an Access Hollywood tape saying, "I'm automatically attracted to beautiful (women). I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything." Dr. King once said, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."
Last August white supremacists, white nationalists, Klansmen, neo-Confederates, and neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting racist and anti-semitic slogans, while carrying semi-automatic weapons, swastikas, anti-Muslim banners and Trump/Pence signs. A man linked to white-supremacists rammed his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one person and injuring 19. Incredulously, President Trump did not denounce the racists. Instead, he blamed everyone, "We condemn in the strongest terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." King would have observed, "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."
Amid all his controversial statements and inappropriate actions, those who support President Trump, whether they are staff or members of Congress, have defended the president with lies and misleading statements. Although many are shocked by what the president says, they remain silent for partisan reasons. As he insults world leaders, as he undermines the American Democracy, as he exaggerates his IQ and wealth, they play along. "My IQ is one of the highest--and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault," Trump has said. These loyalists, these sinecures, these family members know that all that is required is their loyalty and silence. To them, Dr. King would say, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
In his 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." He added, "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity."
Tragically, President Trump does not have the mental or emotional capacity to rise above his selfish concerns. Nonetheless, Dr. King's inspirational words and deeds, which will endure through the ages, powerfully symbolize how great America can be. "The time is always right to do what is right."