We are approaching a strange week in American history. In the same week that the nation celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the latter part of that week, the nation will observe the swearing in of the 45th President of the United States. What a contrast in personalities. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the symbol of the finest moral movement in America and Donald Trump is fast becoming the symbol of the amoral pursuit of power.
C.L.R. James, the late Caribbean intellectual, was convinced that the non-violent civil rights movement was the finest in American history. King used non-violent and mass protest to effectively appeal to the conscience of white America and in the process revealed all the venom and hatred of white supremacy.
The dogs, the hoses, the deviance of the Bull Connors and the George Wallaces representing white America collapsed in the face of a mass movement that was determined to put an end to a system that denied black folks their human dignity. It led to the outlawing of dejure segregation.
King was not alone. There were many grants who paved the way of mass resistance. Stalwarts like Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson and Claude McKay, et al, challenged the system of institutional racism. What made the civil rights movement distinct was that it followed in the aftermath of German and Italian fascism and the atrocities that were committed under the obscenity of Aryan supremacy.
America had played a decisive role in the defeat of Nazism and Japanese expansionism. Black soldiers had fought in the war and as they returned home, they demanded the democratic rights at home that they had fought for abroad. The age of racial subservience had come to an end and in the words of the Jamaican poet, Claude McKay, “If We Must Die, Let Us Nobly Die So That Our Precious Blood May Not Be Shed In Vain”.
King fought with men and women of great stature. Like James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality, Bayard Rustin, the Labor Leader and Organizer of the March in Washington, Ella Baker, one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and actor-activists like Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davies.
The black church was in the forefront of the civil rights movement and
college students, black and white, recognized the historical significance of the civil rights struggle.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote profoundly and prolifically on the subject of human rights including his letter from a Birmingham jail, his epic speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 and his book, “Why we Can’t Wait ,Chaos or Community”.
King had no compunctions about speaking truth to power. He not only recognized the injustices within America but he was critical of American foreign policy in Viet Nam and the nation’s unabashed adherence to unfettered capitalism.
The outcomes achieved by the civil rights movement were quite historic. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were significant legislation that changed the bodypolitic and improved the position of black people in the division of labor. The black middle class expanded as the result of some of the tangible outcomes of the civil right movement.
Nonetheless, the American nation takes up a huge landmass and the southern states are still flying the Confederate flag and as the demographic of the nation changes, immigrant scapegoating is the new escapism used to mask the growing inequality rampant in American society.
Donald Trump boasted in his campaign that he was leading a movement. The Trump movement is one lacking in magnanimity and is as low-minded as his daily tweets. Martin Luther King symbolized the best of America. Trump symbolizes the worst of America.
King’s life brought an upliftment to America, Trump’s Presidency based on his campaign rhetoric and his conduct during the transition period are signs that there will be serious asunderings in the bodypolitic and in civil society during the duration that Trump will be an occupant in the White House.
Even within the Republican Party, there are serious differences regarding his embrace of Putin’s Russia. Not being familiar with diplomatic lingua, Trump, wallowing in his narcissism, presumes that if Putin like him that is an “asset”. He does not have the sophistication to see that foreign policy is not about personal likes and dislikes but about national security interest. At this juncture, Putin is advancing Russian national security interest at the expense of America and her European allies.
With Trump’s lack of diplomatic experience even before ascending to the Presidency, based on the utterances from his proposed Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the country is not far from plunging into war with China in the China Sea. The People’s Republic of China under President Xi-Jinping, sees China as a great power and willing to confront Trump’s America on the high seas.
This is the age of nuclear weapons when miscalculations can lead to the end of life on earth as we know it. Trump, the novice, during the campaign often spoke of nuclear weapons as if they were an option to advance national security interest. Trump’s persona is that of a pit bull, a bully and that kind of barbarism could easily lead to wars that spin out of control.
Trump’s Cabinet nominees send a clear signal that his administration will abandon America’s leadership in the world in confronting climatic change and return to unlimited coal production and fossil fuel. With Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the Department of Justice will take us back to a pre-civil rights, pre voting rights era.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement contributed to the advance of American civilization. Donald Trump, the problematic 45th President of the United States, represent the similar intolerant forces that almost destroyed democracy in the 1930s and 1940s. As in the civil rights movement, it will require mass movement to thwart a repeat of history.