One of the great ironies in American politics is the rush to embrace Dr. Martin Luther King Jr by the very same people who so adamantly opposed him and his movement. In 1983, 90 representatives (77 Republicans, 13 Democrats) and 22 senators (18 Republicans, 4 Democrats) voted against honoring Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday. However, today the Republican Party officially (if not enthusiastically) celebrates King’s legacy in public statements and events.
As for Donald Trump, he has a sketchy history of recognizing this day’s importance to the nation. It’s almost always a perfunctory tribute that appears forced and disingenuous. This year he had no plans to mark the holiday at all until reports of that neglect caused him to rush out to the King Memorial in D.C. for a couple of minutes. The year before that he announced that he would visit the new Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, but canceled it in a petty fit after being criticized by Rep. (and civil rights hero) John Lewis.
Trump did, however, manage to squeeze out a couple of tweets for the occasion this year. One was a purely propaganda video with no message, just images of him and Mike Pence laying a wreath at the King Memorial. The other tweet actually included some commentary on the subject:
Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God. #MLKDay https://t.co/pEaVpCB8M4
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2019
That’s almost an appropriate message to honor this day and Dr. King’s contribution to the country. But part of this message is undercut by current events. In this tweet, Trump specifies that “the place of our birth” does not negate the fact that “we are all created equal.” But Trump is feverishly seeking to discriminate against people for that very reason.
The nation is now in the midst of the longest government shutdown in history. And all because Trump is demanding that Congress fund his vanity wall on our border with Mexico. In his tedious justifications for this funding, Trump maligns the Latino refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. as murderers, rapists, and drug traffickers. What’s more, he is committing political extortion by threatening DACA applicants and recipients of Temporary Protected Status (both programs he is trying to terminate) with deportation if his demands aren’t met.
This is not the way people who are created equal are treated in a just society. But it is the way that Trump and his Republican Nationalist Party are treating people who are fleeing violence and poverty. And it’s the way they are treating people who were brought here as children and have lived here their whole lives. Under these circumstances, for Trump to pretend that he cares about the principles that King fought for is completely absurd.
If Trump means what his tweet says about the place of our birth not precluding us from being treated equally, then he should immediately reopen the government and initiate procedures to process the asylum claims of all refugees, and provide DACA and TPS recipients permanent residency and a path to citizenship. That’s what he should do. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Trump and the GOP to behave honorably or to honor the spirit of Dr. King.