Here's how Republicans are whitewashing Martin Luther King, Jr. this year

As happens every year, Republicans forget what Martin Luther King Jr. actually stood for

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 15, 2018 12:47PM (EST)

 (AP Photo, File)
(AP Photo, File)

Republican political leaders spent Monday trying to pay respect to Martin Luther King Jr. Day with their words, even as they defied its spirit through their actions.

President Donald Trump set the example that all others followed by spending the holiday (where else?) at his private golf course in Florida. It came less than a week after Trump was expressed a preference for white, Nordic immigrants while calling a number of non-white countries — including El Salvador, Haiti and the nations of Africa — as "s**thole countries." One day later, Trump signed a proclamation declaring the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The president is hardly alone among Republican politicians trying to awkwardly reconcile the obligatory words with their unsavory deeds. Rep. Steve King of Iowa posted a quote on his Twitter account of Dr. King discussing getting to "the promised land." This is in spite of the fact that that promised land involved racial diversity, while Rep. King has repeatedly criticized diversity, and even tweeted a quote from a Hungarian white nationalist in December.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin also posted a King quote on his Twitter feed, even though one of King's signature issues was guaranteeing that racial minorities would have fair access to the ballot. One of Walker's chief legacies, on the other hand, is successfully pushing a voter ID law that exists mainly to keep racial minorities from voting in his state. Laws in both that state and North Carolina later proved crucial to Trump's narrow electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Then there is Vice President Mike Pence, who tweeted that King was "a great American leader who inspired a movement & transformed a nation." Pence conveniently overlooked how the "movement" in question consisted of African Americans protesting racial injustice even when they were harshly criticized for doing so. In October, Pence attended an Indianapolis Colts game just so that he could walk out after players kneeled during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, posted a tweet that mentioned among other things reading the sermons penned by Dr. King. This is particularly ironic, given that King was a staunch critic of capitalism and would have almost certainly been horrified by Ryan's economic policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

Finally there's Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who tweeted a memory about being a student at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., which was famously integrated by the American military after the district refused to desegregate.

This may have been a nice enough memory, but as humorist Peter Sagal — host of a documentary about the Constitution — noted in reply, after Little Rock public schools were desegregated,  things didn't magically get better.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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