Dr. Martin Luther King Knew How to Make America Great Again

01/16/2017 08:11 am ET Updated Jan 16, 2017

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, unless you live in, say, Biloxi, Mississippi, which faced backlash from the Twitterverse when it chose to whitewash the holiday by calling it “Great Americans Day” last week.

King was a great American. Many of us—I’d love to say “all of us,” but the way this country is turning I am not so confident anymore—learned about his incredible contributions to the Civil Rights and human rights movements in school. I’ll choose optimism and count on President-elect Donald Trump not revoking February’s designation as Black History Month, and in this spirit we can assume children will continue to learn more about Dr. King and many other truly Great Americans of African descent in schools next month.

But of all we’re taught about King, the superior sitcom Blackish reminded us in last week’s remarkable episode “Lemons” that there’s much we haven’t been taught. In the episode, teenager Junior (Marcus Scribner) learns under his grandfather’s (Laurence Fishburne) tutorship that King had a radical side, that his words were not all abstract, not all theoretical, not all “Dream-y,” but critical, incisive and that they inspired social action. Not talk, action.

From the video above, which I just discovered this morning, I learned that King’s prescient vision allowed him a kind of cross-temporal X-ray vision that allowed him to see us directly, and to issue an urgent call to arms.

This is it, America. We could be on the cusp of a revolution—one that defies the will of the vast majority of us, one that undermines the spirit of the United States Constitution. Are we going to just sit by and watch it happen?

King’s words:

America, be true to what you said on paper. If I lived in China or even Russia or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of some basic First Amendment privileges because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read about the Freedom of Assembly. Somewhere I read of the Freedom of Speech. Somewhere I read of the Freedom of Press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights. So just as I say that we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.

Copyright Washington Post 2017

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote that “a hellscape of lies and distorted reality awaits journalists covering President Trump.” Anyone familiar with congressionally protected First Amendment rights and who saw last week’s disastrous press conference at which Donald Trump reportedly filled the room with hired staff to cheer, applaud and laugh on command, and where he refused to allow reporters from CNN and BuzzFeed to ask questions, calling the latter “a failing pile of garbage.”

Trump, it should be noted, champions a number of highly questionable media outlets: The National Enquirer, long regarded as one of the nation’s most salacious tabloids, allegedly paid to suppress a story that could have harmed Donald Trump’s campaign. (Here’s why.)

 Trump has sung the praises of the TMZ and its founder Harvey Levin for the very reason one should expect Trump to sing anyone’s praises—because ”the great Harvey Levin of TMZ” produced a hyperbolic, flattering biography of Trump for Fox News.

And of course, Trump hired Stephen K. Bannon, the mastermind behind alt-right tabloid Breitbart, to be his chief strategist. Among Breitbart’s most notable news stories:

Breitbart

Breitbart

Late in the evening of November 9, 2016, as the election was being called for Donald J. Trump, Breitbart Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos—who had run a year-long “Dangerous Faggot” tour of university campuses in part meant to recruit college-aged voters for Donald Trump, and who was selected by the Republican Party leadership to host a “Gays for Trump” rally at the 2016 GOP convention—issued this message through his InstaGram account: Welcome to the Trumpenreich.

People have asked why Yiannopoulos matters. Simply put, because he is the direct link between the neo-Nazi alt-right movement leaders who have endorsed and advanced Trump and Trump’s strategist, Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart when Yiannopoulos, his public persona and his messaging were cultivated at the supposed news organization.

Meanwhile, anyone who has paid attention knows that Trump has waged a war on all legitimate media, most specifically The New York Times, the Washington Post and most recently CNN and BuzzFeed, the latter of whose full legitimacy, to be fair, is still questioned by many other than Trump.

We need to understand the principles of Newspeak and doublespeak and doublethink, described in plain and easy-to-understand English by Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm author George Orwell. It’s not theory: it’s being used in practice today.

We need to understand the difference between legitimate news media organizations and those that are illegitimate. Without waging a personal attack on President-elect Trump, his chosen organizations frequently are the antithesis of legitimacy: they emphasize, as he does, salaciousness and scandal. He thrives on salaciousness and scandal, unless the salacious details are targeted toward him, as per the BuzzFeed dossier rumors that brought about a #GoldenShowers scandal—which, all of us must know, Trump would have promoted with gleeful schadenfreude had the rumors been about Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney or any of his other once-foes.

Speaking of Clinton, we also must understand what the Trump campaign—make no mistake, the incoming administration still operates as a media campaign—is doing, and what even the most legitimate journalists are facilitating.

Hillary Clinton lost the United States presidential election on November 9, 2016. On that date, Clinton issued a concession speech. She threw in the towel. She bowed out gracefully, and on 60 Minutes days later, Trump himself said that Clinton “did some bad things,” but that the Clintons are “good people,” and that he planned to move on with the work of the presidency and not be distracted by the scandal.

Yet, frequently when Trump has backed himself into a corner with his own words, he has gone back to blaming Clinton, as he did in last week’s press conference. And it’s hardly just him. Kellyanne Conway and, increasingly, Reince Prebus and Mike Pence speak on Trump’s behalf in television interviews. In these interviews, whether for CNN, The View or a Sunday-morning politico show such as Meet the Press or Face the Nation, these spokespeople speak of Trump’s remarkable strength. When challenged to give a reasonable explanation for any of a myriad of Trump’s frequently bizarre pronouncements—such as asking “is this Nazi Germany?” or posturing to use nuclear weapons via Twitter—these people inevitably invoke the name of Hillary Clinton. Which makes no sense at this point. And yet the media always, always let it happen.

Journalists need to do better. Hillary Clinton is no longer Donald Trump’s political rival. Journalists should not allow Trump or his mouthpieces to divert conversation about his words and his actions post-November 9 to Hillary Clinton, and yet they always do.

The news media have been accused of “liberal bias” for decades now. That’s not going to change. Now they are being accused by Donald Trump and his team of paid supporters of “fake news.” It’s not bias anymore; it’s “fake news,” while Breitbart, TMZ and the National Enquirer and, less frequently but equally questionable, Fox News are framed as existing solely to smear Honorable Public Servant Donald Trump’s good name. Legitimate reporters and their employing organizations should let these criticisms roll off their backs if they are confident they are reporting facts, yet like Trump, they show their thin skin and their egocentricity by allowing unfounded criticism to get to them and change how they operate.

All journalists need to take this in: Fair and balanced reporting is accurate and truthful reporting. Full stop.

Kellyanne Conway’s entire job is to spin largely invented stories to detract from political scandals and rumors that her boss magnetizes to himself. More simply put, Conway does not tell the truth. She lies a lot. Respectable or not, it’s actually her job to do this. It is not, however, news organizations’ job to support her employment.

When a source is consistently unreliable, as Conway is, why is she a fixture on television news and talk shows? What if, say, I called the New York Times every day and fed reporters absolute lies about terrorism and foreign influence on government actions—would the New York Times take my calls, much less report my lies? No, it would not do that. Why do CNN, broadcast network and other news organizations report Conway’s constantly false or skewed-to-the-point-of-not-bearing-no-resemblance-to-reality words?

Fair and balanced reporting does not involve giving equal time to dependably unreliable sources simply because their opinions are contrary to facts and truth. Giving equal time to disinformation, in fact, undermines accurate, truthful reporting. Why do news organizations and journalists do it? I have no answer for that aside from “ratings,” and I’ve racked my brain over it.

All the media need to do better.

When the only defense for Donald Trump now, two months after the election, two months after Hillary Clinton seems to have vanished deep into the woods of New England, begins with “Well, Hillary Clinton...” then there is no defense for Donald Trump. Period.

Do I expect the media to do better? Not really—why would they? Just because their long-term solvency and our democracy are at stake? Ad revenue drives the news, as commerce drives everything in our capitalist world. But a handful of news organizations are still doing the work of the Fourth Estate—to keep the first three estates, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government—honest and accountable. Yesterday, Bill Moyers issued a list of reliable news organizations:

Responsible American people who still have a stake in preserving the greatest and most unique aspects of what our country historically has been should become acquainted with these organizations and their reporters. And these organizations and those which should aspire to be more like them need to think very carefully before inviting spinmasters and propagandists to “balance” accurate reporting with disinformation.

This post may seem to have diverted from the topic of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It hasn’t. This is what King stood for. It’s what he stood up for, and it’s what he fell down for. For us—all of us—we just saw it as a black and white issue in his time. No. We are right now, all of us, all American people whether or not we feel it as acutely as we should today, where King was when he made his 1968 speech. He had a greater vision of what was to come. It has come. It’s our decision whether or not to defend our freedoms. Our very Constitution is at stake.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now because I’ve been to the Mountaintop. Like anybody I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I don’t care about that now. I just want to do God’s will. I’ve been to the top of the mountain and I’ve seen the Promised Land. We as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight, I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As we proceed into the next four years, may we all have the courage and persistence to be more like this truly singular Great American.

May the American people join forces to make America great again, in the vision and voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

CONVERSATIONS