Today, as the nation and the world pause to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., something sinister is happening across the globe and in America – symbolized in the person of President Donald J. Trump – that would make even the most ardent King enthusiasts (including this writer) shudder: anti-immigration populism is threatening global democracy in a manner reminiscent of Nazism in the twentieth-century.
We must return to the ethic of peace and justice for all people, as exemplified by the work of Dr. King, even as the era of post-Trump revisionism has already been launched, and as the embers of insurrection still burn in Washington, D.C.
As in America, hard nationalist and xenophobic politicians across Europe have gained popularity as sections of their society become afraid and angry over immigration. The Economist calls it the march of Europe’s ‘little Trumps’.
Donald J. Trump, though, is a new kid on the block when it comes to the brand of immigration populism we are witnessing across the globe.
Despite his racial pronouncements against Mexicans, Muslims and, most recently against “shit-hole” countries such as Haiti, El Salvador and the continent of Africa, Trump has only recently tapped into the same sinister thinking in America that has given rise to movements worldwide.
As far back as 2007, long before Trump became a candidate for president of the United States, poll results unearthed simmering, anti-immigration sentiment. For example, in 2007, Italians overwhelmingly said that immigration was a big problem in their country and those immigrants – both from the Middle East and North Africa and from Eastern European countries – were having a bad impact on Italy.
Today, in the aftermath of a violent assault against democracy – with its vicious reminder of the eve of the first Civil War – it is a good time to be reminded of and to re-embrace King’s vision of the beloved community, a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and the love of one’s fellow human beings. It was, for Dr. King, a society in which all are accepted, and none are discriminated against – including immigrants.
We know that Dr. King categorically invoked the truth that all humans ought to be treated with a sense of dignity and that he stood for a just cause, although those who support anti-immigration policies have also drafted his positions to support their ideologically-based activism (as seen in the King quotes usurped by pretentious Republican politicians who objected to the Electoral College certification process).
In his sermon, The Good Samaritan, which he preached in 1966, Dr. King says, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out...This is the way I’m going. If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way...If it means dying for them, I’m going that way.
The epicenter of xenophobia, bigotry and intolerance is, regrettably, the White House and the Republican Party. Now peoples from all over the globe may take their cues from Donald J. Trump, leader of the so-called free world.
It’s important that we do two things as we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. One, we move past his I Have a Dream speech and rediscover his more radical philosophies on the interconnectedness of humanity. This will force us to re-evaluate our position in relation to the rage festering in large pockets of the American and global population. King was not amiss to the realities of conquering segregation; thus, he accepted, as early as in a 1967 speech, all too well that segregation represented just one part of the struggle:
“And I am convinced that segregation is as dead as doornail in its legal sense, and the only thing uncertain about it now is how costly some of the segregationists who still linger around will make the funeral.”
Two, we must use King’s platform to mount a counter-surgency to the vitriol and virulent anger that is spreading across the world – including the racially-antagonistic rhetoric directly threatening American ideals of democratic governance.
Trumpism has invited us to consider whether we have waited to late to mount an effective “counter-surgency”. To be sure, the defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election was a start, but the vicious and oppositional pulse registered during the siege of the United States Capitol building belies a social temperature that was fever-pitched long before its aggrieved introduction on January 6.
The genius of King was in his insightful analysis of the ‘movement’ during the Movement; he instinctively knew when it was time to move from one phase to the next in the struggle for peace and justice in America. He also was aware, in 1967, within just less than a year of his assassination, of its costs:
“It didn’t cost the nation to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now.”
The irony of King’s words is discovered in the socio-economic make-up of the insurrectionists who advanced on the nation’s seat of authority on January 6, 2021. While reports, footage and social media testimonials of elites who took part in the insurrection abound, many of the insurgents were poor, disaffected Whites.
It is a good time to be King.