It's hard to know what to say today. Dr. King had a way with words, a capacity for giving speeches which stands second to very few people in history. How many famous speeches can you name off the top of your head? I'm sure one of Dr. King's springs to mind.
I don't know if this skill came easily to him or not. Likely not. Likely it was a natural gift, tempered and honed over years and decades of hard work into a great tool - a tongue, as it were, mightier than the sword.
Last year I opted to say very little on the occasion of this remembrance. A sign of respect, as it were, thoughtfulness, and no small amount of upset. But to everything there is a season, and this year I've decided to honor Dr. King in a different way, a way he perhaps also would have approved of: by speaking. By putting my natural talent to some small use and not burying it.
Let me be blunt: today is the first Martin Luther King Day in Donald Trump's America. Let me be blunt again: these two things are antithetical. They represent two divergent currents in the tide of history.
On the one hand, we have what its critics refer to as "political correctness" and what the rest of us just refer to as common human decency. We have Dr. King's simple - and potent - exhortation to judge all men not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. This was a powerful idea not so long ago. The eighties and the nineties in particular were a time when the nation was grappling with the overt, unfettered, malicious racism of the past, and the only acceptable public behavior was to denounce it. And this is what those with hate in their hearts refer to as political correctness - the idea that people shouldn't slur each other, shouldn't denigrate each other, should attempt to be decent to each other.
And no, our problems were not fixed over night, still aren't fixed, in fact, but bigotry was a problem that everyone seemed to be actively acknowledging, if not necessarily grappling with. Which leads us to our second current of history: the movement of racism underground. No, racism didn't go away in the latter few decades of the 20th century. It was simply hidden away, plastered over, like a layer of paint over a rotting foundation. The foundation was never fixed, and the paint, eventually, would begin to peel.
Then there came Trump. The billionaire from Queens who painted himself as the salt of the earth. The man who lost the popular vote by nearly three million and yet, by what can only be described as a fluke (although it increasingly seems likely a con), won the presidency.
The man who denied being racist, despite calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, despite equivocating on neo-Nazis and calling them decent people, despite leading the "birther" movement to discredit the first black president, despite (as recently as this week) calling Africa and Haiti "shitholes" and saying we don't need any more Haitians in America.
Worse, though, than any of his personal actions and words, was the tempest Trump's election released. Immediately in its aftermath, the racists of old, who had gone underground, came crawling out of the woodwork, shouting "Welcome to Trump's America" at Muslims in the street. All manner of vulgar, racist behavior happened on election day, and in the months since, perhaps culminating with a neo-Nazi rally in Charlotte this summer. (At least we can all hope that was its culmination.)
I'm not going to waste anyone's time pretending the sudden explosion in hate crime and the election of the candidate neo-Nazis consider one of their own are unrelated. Doubtless, Republicans will feel the need to equivocate on this issue, and point out that while all racists supported Donald Trump, not all Trump supporters were therefore necessarily racist. Bully for you. Rhetorical ass-covering complete. I suppose if it makes you refrain from sending out a meme comparing Obama to a monkey for a solid twenty-four hours just to prove your point, I guess that's some kind of small victory. He and his supporters equivocate and attempt to thread the rhetorical needle on every individual case of mortifying racism ("Haiti's not a shithole because it's predominantly black, it just so happens to be a shithole anyway, unlike Norway, which is a nice country not because it's white, but, well, you get the picture," etc.) But at the end of the day, the pattern is blindingly obvious.
For the rest of us, living in reality, the equivocating is an insult to sense and decency. Trump is the functional reverse of Martin Luther King: a man who stands up and says, "It's okay to give in to your worst inner demons. It's okay to be racist. America was better when racism was enshrined in the legal system. Let's get back to those days."
So this feels like a dark day. A reversal of fortunes. A loss of decades and decades of hard work.
There's little recourse, I suppose, than to wait for the pendulum. Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction, and the Trump years represent a revolution of sorts. A hateful, ugly revolution against civility and decency, but a revolution nonetheless. Trump has already proven to be a miserable, laughable trainwreck, and the backlash against him has already been extreme. Perhaps we can hope that in the long run this miserable experiment in recidivism will end with the pendulum pointed even further in the direction of equality than it was before. Perhaps good people will see this, be reminded of what true ugliness is, and reject it. The arc of history is long, after all, and bends towards justice.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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