We thought twice about tackling the issue of all that is so very wrong about our country as we celebrate – in an obviously ironic way – MLK Day the same week a racist buffoon ascends to the nation’s highest office. And right there you see the problem: it’s too damn obvious. But the more we thought about it, the more we thought that we should shine a spotlight on some of the things about Trump’s America that are wildly at odds with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy – some things that may not be as stark as Trump’s racism, but that may wind up being equally salient. Here they are.
This is the first of five observations, but the next four also flow from it. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for nothing if not empathy. King was a man whose life was entirely about the wellbeing of others. He was not about his own future; he was about his children’s future. He was not about getting to the promised land; he was about the rest of us getting there – even if, as he prophesied himself, we would get there without him.
And what have we become in the Age of Trump? We are witness now to an entire movement beset by a malignancy called narcissism – a complete and overwhelming inability to empathize with the plights of others. What else can be said about a movement and a party that wants to leave millions adrift in the ocean of illness and anxiety that awaits after the Affordable Care Act is callously tossed aside? What else can be said about a movement and a party that seeks to systematically dismantle voting rights and access to the franchise? What else can be said about a movement and a party that stands categorically against educational opportunities for the historically disadvantaged, food and clothing for the poor, and a habitable planet for all our progeny?
Narcissism, at its core, is unconcern for others, and let’s be frank: that means evil. When an entire mass movement grows up around what is typically considered to be an acute personality disorder adhering to a mere individual, one can see how much ugliness grows up with it. It is an ugliness that is anathema to everything King stood for.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not believe that he or anyone else was entitled to anything by virtue of skin color or ethnic heritage. In fact, his point was exactly the opposite: that he, like everyone else, should be judged only based on the content of his character.
How stark is the elegance of King’s philosophy when juxtaposed against the prevailing narcissistic attitudes in Donald Trump’s America – a country where whites, mesmerized by the perceived glory of their own reflections, feel entitled to the privileges that come with being white; the rich feel entitled to remaining rich because they were born rich; and any movement toward equality of opportunity (for nobody has ever asked for equality as to outcomes) is viewed as an existential threat to the world order to which those at the top are perpetually entitled — not because of the content of their character, but because they are them.
3. Inverted Victimhood
Martin Luther King, Jr. was never a victim, as far as he was concerned. He was, rather, a warrior for justice. He also did not see African Americans or anyone else as victims, even in the face of irrebuttable evidence that, for centuries, African Americans were, at the very least, victimized. King didn’t want pity or mercy for himself or for anyone else; he just wanted the injustices visited upon his fellow man to stop.
And look where we are now, in 2017. Not only do the rubes – historically the first in line to cause every manner of discriminatory outrage – refuse to recognize the targets of their own animus as victims; they insist on being seen as victims themselves. Poor, poor, put-upon Trump voters – always being called on to give up their illusory claims to whatever power and relevance they think their ancestors might have had in some bygone time.
We’ve used the word elegance, and we’ll use it again. Martin Luther King, Jr. was elegant. He spoke with force to whatever decency might be lurking in even the most rotten soul. And he was a poet.
How have we descended from his elegance into such a base, crass rhetorical cesspit? From “I have a dream” at the Lincoln Memorial to prepubescent tweets like “So sad” and “Your ratings suck.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a learned man. He read, he wrote, he learned, and he taught. But our national ethos has changed since then. Anti-intellectualism is at its peak.
That’s because narcissists already know everything there is to know. What kind of idiot is going to teach the narcissist anything? Socrates? Merton? Darwin? Einstein? We inhabit a nation whose people don’t know anything because they don’t read. And they don’t read because they don’t care. And if there is nothing to know, then there is nothing to teach. So there is no place for men like King anymore, because what do they do but teach?
Only in an ignorant nation could an ignoramus like Donald J. Trump come to so completely occupy a national consciousness once occupied by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and yes, Martin Luther King, Jr.