Trump, King And Moral Equivalency

King was a firefighter, Trump is an arsonist.
04/14/2017 08:17 am ET Updated Apr 14, 2017

We offer, as Rod Serling might’ve said, the following for your consideration.

Two different persons light a blaze in a field. One has the intention of creating a firebreak to stall a potentially out-of-control wildfire. The other has the intention of igniting a wildfire that will cause untold damage.

The first is a firefighter. The second is an arsonist. Surely no one’s deluded enough to say that simply because both employ the same method they’re morally equivalent. Surely that would be a nonsensical comparison.

And yet, political pundit Jeffrey Stone made just as bizarre a comparison yesterday in commenting on President Trump’s latest “art of the deal” display of bullying.

It all began with a Wall Street Journal interview in which Trump threatened to withhold Obamacare subsidies to health insurers if congressional Democrats don’t give him the national health care package he wants. “I don’t want people to get hurt,” Trump said, referring to the tens of thousands of private citizens who, in fact, would be seriously harmed if he carried out his ultimatum. His insinuation was that if the Democrats don’t cave, the misery of all those losing health care benefits will be on them.

Trump was immediately attacked for the ultimatum, at which point Stone came riding in to his rescue waving a copy of Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Trump, claimed Stone, is using the same tactic of crisis-creation that King did, and he pulled this passage from the “Letter” to clinch his point:

“The purpose of our direct-action program [wrote King] is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

Stone’s point, of course, is that if we admire King’s use of the tactic, we must admire Trump’s as well.

Nonsense. Just as the firefighter’s and the arsonist’s lighting of their respective fires isn’t morally equivalent, neither is there moral equivalency in Trump’s and King’s employment of crisis-creation.

King’s “direct-action program” was a nonviolent Christian response to egregious injustice against an entire group of people systematically oppressed by the laws and ethos of a land. His campaign, based upon the solid conviction that all persons are equally lovable in God’s eyes and hence worthy of respect, had no other purpose than “to create the kind of tension in society that will help men [sic] rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” Stone actually quotes this second passage from the “Letter,” but apparently—and astoundingly—not appreciating how different in tone and intent it is from everything that Trump stands for.

Trump’s version of crisis-creation doesn’t seem to be fueled in even the slightest way by religious or moral concerns that inspired King. Instead, his motive here apparently follows the same self-absorbed obsession with winning at all costs that is both his personal and public trademark. In this case, far from helping others, his crisis-creation directly inflicts harm upon precisely the constituency he promised to protect during his campaign. As Paul Krugman put it, the “nastiness” of the president’s ultimatum “should be obvious, but let’s spell it out. Mr. Trump is trying to bully Democrats by threatening to hurt millions of innocent bystanders — ordinary American families who have gained coverage thanks to health reform.”

King was a firefighter who used crisis-creation as a firebreak against systematic racism. Trump is an arsonist who uses crisis-creation to break opponents, consolidate power, and contribute to the Trump Myth.

Yet Stone sees the two as morally equivalent.

King wasn’t a perfect man, nor (I must believe) is Trump utterly evil. One of the worst consequences of our media-driven age is that it’s all too easy to idolize or demonize public figures. But when it comes to Trump and King, no reasonable person could possibly believe that the content of their character is on the same level. To claim otherwise is sheer delusion or cynical rhetoric.

Or, as Rod Serling might say, welcome to the Twilight Zone.

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