When Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 56 years ago, it came against a backdrop of significant societal tumult, including the assassination of Medgar Evers just two months earlier. The civil rights leader’s remarks spoke to the sense of urgency.
“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” MLK said in his remarks. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
Vice President Mike Pence apparently felt justified appropriating King’s rhetoric into the White House’s immigration agenda, arguing on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” yesterday:
“You know, the hearts and minds of the American people today are thinking a lot about it being the weekend where we remember the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of my favorite quotes 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. Come to the table in a spirit of good faith.”
Of course, the last time congressional Democratic leaders went to the negotiating table “in a spirit of good faith,” Donald Trump walked away from the table after being told he couldn’t have what he thinks he’s entitled to.
But even putting aside the relevant details, Pence’s use of King’s quote is hopelessly misguided. For one thing, given everything we know about King’s record, it’s simply implausible to think the iconic leader would have endorsed a far-right campaign intended to demonize and punish immigrants. Indeed, the NAACP called Pence’s comments “an insult” to King’s legacy.
For another, if we’re going to make real the promises of democracy, we’re going to have to reject Team Trump’s misguided wall crusade.
Trump ran on a platform of building a wall with Mexican money, and on Election Day 2016, more Americans voted for his opponent. The Republican president proceeded to pitch an aggressively anti-immigrant message ahead of Election Day 2018, when voters handed Democrats control of the House.
In the months that followed, all independent polling has found the American mainstream not only blames Trump and his party for the shutdown, but also does not want to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective and unnecessary border wall.
It’s against this backdrop that the president wants to short circuit the American policymaking process – which is supposed to involve introducing an idea, sending it to committee, allowing for congressional debate and amendments, holding a series of legislative votes, etc. – and instead have his demands met through an extortion strategy built around holding the government hostage.
If Mike Pence thinks Trump’s demands for a border wall have anything to do with “the promises of democracy,” he’s looking at reality through a rather twisted lens. To take democracy seriously is to do the opposite of what the president commands.