It’s time to Break It Down!
We just put a bow on another holiday weekend. While many may have moved on, once again, I have chosen not to do so. Instead, I am opting to carve out a moment of reflection on a few of the ideals so appropriately notated as millions across the United States, and around the world memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. over the course of his birthday/Holiday weekend and beyond. I am also going to juxtapose Mike Pence’s characterization of Donald Trump as acting in the spirit of King, as Trump plows forward with his effort to build a legacy border wall.
In looking back on the many works of Dr. King, I am revisiting a post I wrote and posted Wednesday, January 19, 2011, and that I reprised January 18, 2017, and again last year, January 17, 2018, examining the advent of the King Holiday. It’s been 33 years since the initial observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday (MLK DAY), and 36 years since President Reagan signed the MLK, Jr. Holiday bill into law. Contemporary events remind us that now is an apt time to take a look into the rear view mirror of time.
After over three decades of inculcation into the very fabric of our society, it may be largely forgotten that the conceptualization, submission and continual resubmission of the idea, the enactment, and the gradual national observance, was not the product of universal acceptance of a grand and enlightened concept, but rather, was emblematic of the civil rights struggle itself; steeped in controversy, and the eventual victory of a relentless movement to achieve richly deserved, and long overdue social justice.
Several members of Congress, a number of states, and even a President, using a host of creative means, sought to undermine, outmaneuver, sabotage, subvert, and otherwise derail the efforts of the measure’s proponents. Ultimately, the movement was consolidated, snowballed, and would simply not be thwarted.
The effort to create a King Holiday was started by U.S. Representative John Conyers, Michigan, shortly after Dr. King’s death, in the spring of 1968. It was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 1979, but fell 5 votes short of the number needed for passage in the Lower Chamber.
High profile opponents to the measure included Senator Jesse Helms, NC, Senator John McCain, AZ, and President Ronald Reagan. Both Senators voted against the bill, and Senator McCain publicly supported Arizona Governor Evan Mecham for his rescission of MLK Day as a State Holiday in Arizona. The campaign however, reached a critical mass in the early 1980’s. Spurred on by Stevie Wonder penning a song in King’s honor called, “Happy Birthday,” a petition drive to support the campaign would attract over 6 million signatures. It has been called the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. History.
Buttressed by what had become a wildly successful public campaign, Congress soon followed suit. The proposal passed in the House by a vote of 338-90, and in the Upper Chamber by a vote of 78-22. Given the dimensions of this overwhelming support, in the form of bicameral veto-proof votes, President Reagan signed the provision November 2, 1983, and it became Federal Law. The first observance under the new law took place January 20, 1986, rather than on January 15th, Dr. King’s birthday. A compromise in the legislation specified that the observance take place on the Third Monday in January, consistent with prior legislation (Uniform Monday Holiday Act).
Of course, that was not the end of the story. It would actually take more than 30 years after Dr. King’s death before the Holiday was fully adopted and observed in all 50 states. Illinois holds the distinction of being the first State to adopt MLK Day as a State Holiday, having done so in 1973. Twenty years later, in 1993, for the first time, some form of MLK Day was held in each of the 50 States. It was not until 2000 that South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make MLK Day a paid holiday for State employees; giving the Palmetto State the dubious distinction of being the last of the 50 States to do so. However, Mississippi also sets itself apart by designating the Third Monday in January as a shared Holiday that honors the memory of Robert E. Lee and Dr. King…two fine southern gentlemen.
So with that extensive preamble, let’s move on. As you must surely know, on November 8, 2016, Americans voted, and based on Electoral College results, elected Donald J. Trump President of the United States. Three days shy of the observance of the first anniversary of his historic inauguration, one he claims to be the largest ever witnessed (despite the fact it was not), his unverified claims, outrageous tweets, and dubious comments continue to frame him in stark contrast to his recent predecessors. I will not leave that last comment hanging, without noting that while many Americans believe that is a peculiar, and often unfortunate situation, there is a certain element of our country that believes Mr. Trump is not just a good thing, but exactly what they had hoped for, and precisely what our country needs. Suffice it to say, those are individuals with whom I disagree. Vigorously!
On this past Sunday’s Edition of Face The Nation, Mr. Pence crossed the Rubicon of reason and common sense, asserting that Trump’s obsession with a border wall is somehow representative of the inclusive spirit of Dr. King. The show’s host, Margaret Brennan, asked Pence if Trump’s compromise proposal was a genuine attempt to end the partial government shutdown, considering no Democrats were consulted? Pence’s answer was Twilight Zone-ish…or at least alternative universe-ish (where, presumably, alternative facts reign). He said:
“Honestly, you know, the hearts and minds of the American people today are thinking a lot about it being the weekend we are remembering the life and the work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,’” quoting a passage from Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Pence continued on to argue that like MLK, Trump has also “inspired us to change.” “You think of how he changed America, he inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union,” he said. “That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do, come to the table in a spirit of good faith.” Left unsaid was…”To build the wall.”
Pence’s remarks came on the eve of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, a week after becoming the longest government shutdown on record, 30 days into the partial government shutdown, and 5 days before 800,000 federal workers will miss their second consecutive payday, if the shutdown isn’t ended. The thing is, arguments that the wall is immoral aside, Trump’s posture, and actions, reflect the polar opposite of those Dr. King articulated when he visited and spoke at the Berlin Wall in 1964. On that occasion, Dr. King said:
“For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.”
In its purest essence, Pence’s likening Trump to Dr. King is just another fabrication, statement of an untruth, deflection, and flat out lie. Using the occasion of the King Holiday to manipulate Trump’s followers is a dastardly, but not surprising act. This administration has shown time and time again that the race to the bottom…has no terminus. However, that’s pretty low. To add insult to this grievous injury, the day after Pence made the aforementioned comments, a year after Trump did nothing to acknowledge the King Holiday in 2018, and had no public events scheduled to do so in 2019, he accompanied Mr. Trump to the King Memorial to lay a wreath. They spent two minutes there, and Trump never mentioned Dr. King. Pence couldn’t have been more wrong. Two words…epic fail!
Let me be clear. I have never suffered any illusion that Donald Trump is a friend to the cause of equality, diversity, or inclusion. His wall promise, and kowtowing to the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh when he appeared poised to do the right thing, are just more evidence that his aims and methods are in no way reflective of, or in concert with those of Dr. King. Whether you label his words and actions racist (they often are) is inconsequential to me. But if you insist that you are not, but fail to summon the courage and intestinal fortitude to speak out when he spouts off on one of his offensive jags, or veers left, when clearly the moment calls for right, you display cowardice as best, and quite possibly reveal a picture window into your own moral and ethical failings. As for Mr. Trump, “He May Be One of A Kind: However, King-like, He Most Certainly Is Not!”
I’m done; holla back!
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