9 Ways Trump Has Undermined Martin Luther King Jr.'s Fight For Equality

by Sarah Beauchamp
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. led the fight for civil rights in the United States, leaving a lasting legacy — one we've celebrated with a national holiday for more than 30 years. But for many, it feels strange to celebrate him just a few days after President Trump made racist remarks about nations like Haiti and countries in Africa. Trump's election reminded many people that we have a long way to go when it comes to healing racial animosity in this country, and there are quite a few ways in which Trump is erasing Martin Luther King's hard work.

MLK delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law, declaring all slaves free. In his now infamous monologue, King said:

One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

And now, more than 50 years after that historic day, it can feel like we haven't made much progress. We have a president who recently made headlines for calling several black and brown countries "sh*tholes." In fact, he reportedly thought the comments would play well with his base, considering his 2016 presidential campaign was filled with racist rhetoric, including that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.

When Trump took office, he brought a lot of people to the White House with him that are known for their racist views. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon used to be the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right political site that's known for espousing white supremacist views. Trump also brought on Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, who was once rejected as federal judge because of racially insensitive comments. Sessions called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for which MLK served on the executive committee of the Montgomery, Alabama branch in the 1950s, an "un-American organization" teaching "anti-American values."

Since Trump has been in the Oval Office, his rhetoric has increased racial tensions in the United States, and his policies have worked against black and brown Americans. Here are just a few of the ways that Trump has worked against the ideals MLK upheld half a century ago.

Trump Began His Presidency With A Divisive Inaugural Speech

In Trump's speech at his inauguration in January 2017, he talked about "American carnage," "radical Islam," and bringing "back our borders." He approached our nation's problems by pitting non-Americans against Americans, and generally those non-Americans were black and brown people.

This kind of fear mongering goes against King's belief system. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that," King said. "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

His "America First" Mentality Neglects Countries Who Need Help

MLK once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

However, Trump doesn't see things that way. He believes in an "America first" agenda and he's neglected other countries and territories because of this ideology. For instance, Trump ignored Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Irma because of the territory's debt.

Trump Defended Neo-Nazis After They Killed A Protestor

After a violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Trump never condemned the white supremacists who gathered, chanting "Jews will not replace us," and ended up killing one protestor, Heather Heyer. "I think there's blame on both sides," he said at the time.

This is the antithesis, of course, to MLK, who dedicated his life to fighting white supremacy. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter," King said.

He's Attacked Black NFL Players For Protesting Racial Injustice

Trump has condemned black NFL players for protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.

Yet, peaceful demonstration was the backbone of King's movement. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 to the March on Washington for Jobs in 1963, King bolstered civil rights for black Americans through non-violent protest. "True pacifism,’’ or ‘‘nonviolent resistance,’’ King wrote in his book Stride Toward Freedom, is ‘‘a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love’."

Trump Has Pushed For A "Muslim Ban"

Trump has pushed for a "Muslim ban," a policy that targets Muslim-majority countries from being able to come to the U.S. The third iteration of this ban passed the Supreme Court in December 2017. Most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, and North Korea are now banned from entering the United States, in addition to some groups from Venezuela.

Trump Cracks Down On Sanctuary Cities

Trump has attempted to cut funding from sanctuary cities, which provide a safe space for undocumented immigrants. He and his administration have painted sanctuary cities as violent areas full of crime, when in fact data shows the opposite to be true.

"So-called 'sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said.

Trump Admin Supports Strict Voter-ID Laws

Sessions has worked for decades to further restrict voter-ID laws, which disproportionally affect voters of color.

In 1965, King marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to secure black Americans' right to vote. This is a prime example of the Trump admin attempting to undo the work of centuries of civil rights advocates.

Trump Called Haiti and Other Black And Brown Countries "Sh*tholes"

"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," King famously said.

Trump did the opposite when he labeled all immigrants from countries like Haiti and El Salvador as unskilled, referring to their nations as "shitholes." Not only does this kind of rhetoric only serve to further marginalize black and brown immigrants, but it is also an example of Trump not being sympathetic to people who've been victims of colonialism, genocide, and natural disasters.

Trump Rejected A Bipartisan Deal For Racist Reasons

Not only did Trump make offensive comments about black and brown countries, but he in essence rejected a bipartisan immigration deal because he didn't want people coming from these nations. And he made this decision when a government shutdown is a real possibility. This demonstrates how far Trump is willing to go to defend his ideals.

As King said, "the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." And Trump has shown us the kind of man that he is, time and time again.

Editor's Note: This op-ed does not reflect the views of BDG Media and is part of a larger, feminist discourse on today's political climate.