Monday, January 15, 2018 marked Martin Luther King Day. Many factions of the American government closed to praise Dr. King and all that he fought for. Peaceful protest, judging one another based on the content of their character, and more all fall under the banner of Dr. King’s teachings. However, there are unfortunately some people who have chosen to employ Dr. King’s memory as a political weapon to wage against those whom they dislike or disagree with. More often than not, this phenomenon presents itself in the form of someone stating that Dr. King wouldn’t like or agree with this person or that person. In many instances these assertions are either unverifiable or directly contradict statements from Martin Luther King Jr.’s living relatives.
Georgia Democrat John Lewis is one of the people who has decided to use Dr. King’s memory and activism as a political weapon, as noted by Newsweek. Unsurprisingly, this weapon was employed against President Trump. Lewis went on The View yesterday and opined that Dr. King would have been utterly disgusted with the 45th President and refused to meet with him:
“I knew her [Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.] father very very well . . . I think he would have taken the same position that I took.”
The position that Lewis is referring to is his decision to boycott both President Trump’s inauguration and his upcoming State of the Union address, which Lewis branded as “evil.”
“I felt strongly during the inauguration, for the so-called inauguration, that I couldn't be at home with myself if I had to participate or be part of it. The movement taught us to withdraw from evil. And I never felt that (Trump's) election was legitimate. If Martin Luther King would have been alive, Dr. King would have been able to lead us to a different place. Our country would be different and the world community would be different.”
Lewis’ statements are problematic on many counts. First and foremost, his assertion that Dr. King would have “taken the same position” on boycotting President Trump contradicts remarks from Dr. King’s own daughter. Last year, Bernice King stated that her father would have met with President Trump in order to “negotiate.” This doesn’t seem to matter to Lewis who apparently believes that he knew Dr. King better than Bernice King did.
While John Lewis is entitled to his own opinions regarding President Trump, Lewis is not entitled to his own facts. Martin Luther King Jr. was a courageous leader who wanted peace and equality. Although Lewis may have known Dr. King, he factually does not know how Dr. King would have behaved towards President Trump.
Lewis is not the only person employing Dr. King’s memory as a political weapon. Many of President Trump’s critics have adopted this unfortunate practice. On Monday, Chelsea Handler retweeted an illustration of Martin Luther King Jr. placing his hand over President Trump’s mouth. It is unfortunate that many people have resorted to using such an iconic figure as a tool to wield against a President that they dislike.
During Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he spoke about the importance of abstaining from revenge, retaliation, and aggression:
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
This seems to be something that many Americans on both sides of the aisle have lost sight of. The political climate has become very toxic, aggressive, and vengeful. People frequently demonize their political opposition as irredeemably evil, while believing that people on their own side can do no wrong. Before John Lewis and others evoke Martin Luther King Jr.’s name and memory, they should be very sure that their own actions and rhetoric are in alignment with what Dr. King preached and encouraged.
Ultimately, Martin Luther King Jr. wanted peace, equality, and he wanted others to be judged based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. For all the people who claim to champion what Dr. King stood for, there is still much work to be done. A part of peacefulness and civility entails talking to people, even those who have differing viewpoints. As long as Americans on both sides of the aisle continue to demonize their political adversaries as evil, racist, sexist, and stupid, the divides in this nation will only deepen.
Dr. King is not a political weapon. His teachings are not to be implemented and cited selectively when certain folks have an agenda to push. Either we stand by the declarations of Dr. King, or we don’t. What’s it going to be?