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DOCTORED KING: How the GOP misappropriates MLK’s words while opposing what he stood for

DOCTORED KING: How the GOP misappropriates MLK’s words while opposing what he stood for

DOCTORED KING: How the GOP misappropriates MLK’s words while opposing what he stood for

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy gave the obligatory nod to Martin Luther King Day Monday by retweeting Republican Congressman Wesley Hunt’s video of a segment of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Hunt wrote: “As the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., traversed the nation in his quest for equality and lost his life fighting for the principle that each of us be judged by the content of our character instead of the color of our skin.”

Other GOP pols joined in.

Take a look at the tweets below, which are just a small sampling, and see if you can recognize any themes.

Perhaps you noticed that Republicans tend to zero-in on two ideas from King: speaking up, even when what you know is right may meet with severe opposition, and judging people by their character rather than by skin color.

Why do they do this? Well, because they like to make it appear as if Dr. King would have supported what they support: opposing progressive legislation and refusing to acknowledge racial issues and America’s history of problems with racism and bigotry.

Some have taken this even further.

In October, Kari Lake claimed that MLK would have been a MAGAt:

“I’m a true believer that if MLK, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive today, if JFK were alive today, if our Founding Fathers were alive today, they would be America First Republicans,” she said.

Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice King, sought to set her straight:

A year earlier, Ms. King had tried correcting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis when he repurposed Dr. King as an “anti-woke” advocate:

Yet such corrections can be like speaking wind into the ocean.

Republicans, unfortunately, often suffer from what you might call KDS – King Delusional Syndrome.

The symptoms include:

  • Somehow believing Martin Luther King, Jr. would be a Republican today
  • Taking King’s words completely out of context
  • Having extreme cognitive dissonance/ignoring certain things the great reverend said that might fly in the face of one’s preconceived notions

This is not purely academic.

By purposefully taking King’s words out of context and misrepresenting him, the GOP can pretend that they’re not besmirching his legacy, a legacy that many Republicans fought against honoring.

Yet, for all the big Dr. King talk they offer, they go against him in practically every way when it’s time to show their true colors.

Last January, for instance, they stymied two voting rights bills in the Senate that would have improved voter access and brought redress to the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, wherein the court essentially dismantled the requirements imposed by the Voting Rights Act, allowing Southern states to change their voting laws and procedures at will without approval from the Department of Justice.

The Freedom to Vote Act would have lengthened early voting times and increased absentee voting; made Election Day a national holiday, so that people would not have had to take off work to vote; provided means to initiate a national policy of auto-registration; addressed voter-ID laws; and stipulated that felons who have done their time would no longer be denied their right to vote.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the recently-deceased congressman and civil rights hero who marched with Dr. King, would have made it more difficult for Republicans to continue to close polling stations and engage in other tactics designed to dissuade people from voting.

No surprise, Republicans shot both down.

They’ve also frequently misused King’s words to promote the idea that he would be against Critical Race Theory.

Republicans have portrayed CRT as a “hate whitey” approach that teaches kids to resent America.

The truth, of course, is that it is simply a lens through which to perceive how racism has impacted America’s history.

GOPers, however, like to pretend that MLK would have been against any discussions of race – that it somehow would have violated his “content of their character” assertion. But let’s look at what King actually said.

In Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), King spoke about the “white backlash” and an unwillingness by a certain segment of the population to embrace progress:

“What is the source of this perennial indecision and vacillation? It lies in the ‘congenital deformity’ of racism that has crippled the nation from its inception. The roots of racism are very deep in America. Historically it was so acceptable in the national life that today it still only lightly burdens the conscience. No one surveying the moral landscape of our nation can overlook the hideous and pathetic wreckage of commitment twisted and turned to a thousand shapes under the stress of prejudice and irrationality.”

Certainly sounds like he had no issues whatsoever with investigating America’s history from a clear, honest perspective – which included discussing racism, of course.

Undoubtedly, Dr. King would have been challenged to extend his love to many of today’s GOP members – though he would have tried.

He stood for learning, equality, economic opportunity, understanding, and compassion.

They stand for anger, division, corporate greed, and the promotion of nonsensical narratives over facts.

Lauren Boebert, for one – who quoted Dr. King above – is not only an advocate for the Second Amendment, but often flaunts her gun ownership in support of a gun-obsessed culture.

While, understandably, Dr. King briefly tried to get a gun permit to protect his family in the 1950s, he soon resolved to be against gun ownership, concerned about the potential for violence.

And it was a gun that ended that beautiful man’s life far too early.

He fought for unions and fair pay; Republicans fight for tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

He fought to make sure people can vote; they’re fighting to take people’s right to vote away.

He fought to hold politicians accountable; they fight to absolve Donald Trump.

He fought against violence; they turn a blind eye to it.

And while the GOP can try to claim that King would somehow be on their side, they’ve created a culture of racism that is so pervasive in their party that a recent YouGov poll found that only 39% of people who identify as Republican say MLK Day should be a federal holiday, with 37% saying no and the rest not sure.

Mind you that they seem to have no issue with celebrations of slave-owning and slave-trading white men (George Washington and Christopher Columbus).

So when Republicans try to misappropriate King’s words for their own use, don’t let them.

Because truth does matter. It might be frustrating, but keep something else Dr. King said in mind:

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Join Ross on Twitter as he exposes more GOP hypocrisy by clicking on @RossRosenfeld.

Ross Rosenfeld

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