Wineke: Donald Trump Is No MLK

Just about the time I thought the political world couldn’t become more surrealistic, Vice President Mike Pence compared President Donald Trump to Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One of my favorite from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.’ You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do,” in response to the government shutdown.


Sometimes I think those around the president go out of their way to make him appear ridiculous, as if he couldn’t accomplish that on his own.

And, although King was assassinated 50 years ago, Pence is old enough to recall that King wasn’t just a sainted lobbyist trying to bring people together.

He was a revolutionary figure who was jailed, harassed and, eventually, killed for his efforts to empower the oppressed. He not only demanded voting rights for black people, but he risked his popularity by opposing the Vietnam War and, at the time of his murder, for rallying to the cause of striking sanitation workers in Memphis.

He actually wasn’t at all like Trump.

But the Pence parody does have something to teach us about how society tries to defang its radicals.
We have sanitized King beyond any recognition. We have created a national holiday in his name. We have put up a big statue in Washington, D.C. We have made him a secular – or not so secular – saint.

In the process, we have obliterated much of his call for justice and for nonviolent protest. If we can equate King’s call for voting rights with Trump’s call for a border wall, we have gone from inspiration to parody.

But, we do that kind of thing — and not just to King.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent evangelical Christian leader, assured us that Jesus Christ would never have become in controversial political issues, like, for example, building a wall.

“Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome,” Falwell said. “He went out of his way to say that’s the earthly kingdom, but I’m about the heavenly kingdom and I’m here to teach you to treat others, how to help others, but, when it comes to serving your country, you render onto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

“It’s a distortion of the teaching of Christ to say Jesus taught love and forgiveness and, therefore, the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving and just hand over everything we have to every other part of the world …”

By that message, one might assume that Falwell would have the Evangelical church shut up about abortion laws because those laws fall into the realm of Caesar.

There’s a lot of controversy about the meaning of Christ’s words, but I would note that he was put to death by an order of the Roman Empire and that he was executed as a terrorist. The week before his execution, he led a march into Jerusalem in which his followers cheered that he was their new king.

He was not put to death because he told people to love their neighbors.

Martin Luther King was not Jesus Christ. But he did try, however imperfectly, to follow Christ and he did not, as Pence and Falwell have done, try to reduce Christ’s message to feel-good pablum.

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