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Horowitz: Trump Turns Celebration of MLK into a Surreal Occasion

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

 

Rob Horowitz

It was simply surreal to watch President Trump perfunctorily read a statement praising Martin Luther King on Friday and then leave the podium without answering the shouted questions of reporters about whether or not he is a racist--legitimate questions generated by the president’s own words in a meeting about immigration the day before. If Trump was determined to rise to the moment and fully embrace the spirit and legacy of Martin Luther King, he would have straightforwardly addressed the controversy, apologized for creating the impression that he thought immigrants from Africa and Haiti of  black and brown skin were by definition inferior to white immigrants from Norway, and made crystal clear that he actually does believe that “all men are created equal.”

Given President Trump’s demonstrated track record of making racially-tinged remarks, doing what he actually did-- waiting a couple of days and then telling reporters on Sunday that “he is the least racist person you will ever meet”-- was woefully inadequate at best.  This is especially the case, when it has been widely reported that he has been telling his friends that he thinks his racially incendiary remarks will probably help with his base. 

Mitt Romney’s rebuke of the president for his attempt in the wake of Charlottesville to create false equivalency between White Supremacists and those that oppose them apply to this latest racial controversy as well:  Romney said that Trump's words blaming "many sides" for the violence "caused racists to rejoice" and "minorities to weep."  The former Republican Presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor went on to say, "His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.”

Through his words and actions, President Trump continues to sow racial division, so when his defenders came out once again to say that is not the president’s intent or his real feelings, as some did this past weekend on the Sunday shows, it rings all the more hollow.   

The inescapable conclusion as we approach the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death is we have a president who does not share this heroic civil rights leader's all-encompassing vision of the promise of America as expressed in its founding documents. In King’s famous "I have a Dream" Speech, he remarked, “I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: "'we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

In words that continue to echo throughout our nation's King continued, “I have a dream that my four little chi1dren 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.”     

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of Americans share King’s vision and while much remains to be done, we have made tremendous progress over the past 50 years. The bad news, however, is that President Trump has put his political energy into reigniting racial divisions and seeking advantage from racial resentments. This has emboldened racists who are proclaiming their hatred in numbers and ways we have not seen in more than 50 years.

And by his words and deeds, even when giving President Trump a benefit of the doubt he has not earned, there is an open question about whether our president truly does judge people by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. That is why as we think about Martin Luther King during this time of year when we celebrate the MLK holiday, it is incumbent on the rest of us, whether we are citizens, elected officials, or leaders of businesses or non-profits, to speak up forcefully and clearly for the enduring idea of equality of opportunity—to stand up against President Trump’s attempts to turn back the clock.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits, businesses, and elected officials and candidates. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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