The Teachings of MLK, Jr. in the Age of Trump

On Monday, we celebrate the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., his legacy, and the movement he helped lead.  In just three months, on April 4th, will mark the 50th Anniversary of the tragedy of his assassination.  As such, we are at a point now in our country's history where a growing majority of Americans simply were not alive during Dr. King's life and feel only a connection to him through black and white photos, history lessons, and grainy film footage of his "I Have a Dream" speech on the March on Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

There is no doubt that Dr. King's voice thundered across this nation, and in moral indignation, torn apart the foundations of an amoral political system which systematically excuded and discriminated against African-Americans.  He bent the arc of a moral universal closer to justice.  But where does Dr. King, his philosophy, and his legacy connect to the issues of America today in the Age of Trump?


The three marches from Selma to Montgomery were simply a public display in support of registering African-Americans to vote.  They were met with firehoses, police dogs, and clubs. The public sight of unarmed African-Americans being beat while protesting and organizing to overcome obstacles state legislatures put to attempt to obstruct their ability to vote entirely led to President Johnson to hold a joint session of Congress to call for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We continue to see obstacles to voting being raised to frustrate the ability of racial minorities and those economically marginalized from voting.  From voting purges, ever growing identification requirements to changes in early voting hours, we've seen countless efforts by Republicans here in Ohio to affect elections by targeting voting.

But even more importantly, Dr. King recognized that fundamental change for African-Americans on social and economic terms was directly tied to organizing around the exercise of voting.  This year, we can bring real change to both Washington, D.C. and Columbus.  We can end this year with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate that will restore a system of checks and balances to an out-of-control Executive Branch and its combination of policies that favor powerful corporations while attacking immigrants and minorities.  Whether it's by mail, or early in-person, or at the polls, make your voting plan and help your friends and neighbors with theirs. 

Economic issues

After the 2016 elections, you might have heard pundits suggest that the Democratic Party appeared to care more about social issues than economic issues.  However, no figure demonstrated that as a false choice more than Dr. King, who repeatedly recognized a direct connection between the two.

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." - Letters from a Birmingham Jail

After all, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis while lending support to sanitation workers striking for the right to collectively bargain.  He spoke often of the common struggle caused by economic inequality as well.

But perhaps the most relevant aspect of Dr. King's legacy in th Age of Trump is simply this: truth matters.  Dr. King's rhetorical power was inseparably bound to an undeniable moral certainty that struck to the core of the American identity.  So often, Dr. King's most famous speeches hearkened back to the promise of America at its founding: that we are all created equal and have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We honor the life and legacy of Dr. King and his movement for equality.  At a time in which we see our political system corrupted by hate and division, it's important to not just honor him with remembering the great social changes he helped to bring.  But we must commit ourselves to honor Dr. King by completing the unfinished work he left for us.