What fascinates me almost more than the man, Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, is how people in positions of power attempt to co-opt his image.
This phenomenon isn't exclusive to King. In fact, just yesterday, Ted Cruz claimed that John F. Kennedy would have been a Republican today. But it seems more frequent, especially within recent years (as far as I personally can recall, mind you) that Republican politicians and their supporters claim not only that MLK would be a Republican today, but that he was a Republican back in his day as well.
At least the irrelevant argument that any deceased socio-political figure from decades ago would belong to any particular party today lends credence to the fact that political parties generally do change and adapt over time. Otherwise, again, it's irrelevant.
I'd written a joke a while back about how almost every city is apparently required to have an MLK Blvd. It's more noticeable in the south. After you notice it, it feels contrived. It's as if they're saying "HEY, we're not racist. Look, our best STREET is black! Argument settled."
When politicians do it, claim that MLK would share their worldview, it comes across as a kind of reverse-Godwin. "I'm not saying I'm the best known American advocate for racial justice of all time, but Martin Luther King would totally agree with me on this."
So why do they do it? Rather, why do they feel they need to do it? Is it because it's naturally ridiculous? It would defy common sense, so maybe that's the motivation; they need to change the common sense view. Does associating Dr. King with war-hawking, systemic injustice apologists serve as a means of justifying violence and hateful rhetoric? Is it as simple as King = Good and We = Good, therefore King = Us? The only thing I can see that Dr. King has in common with any far-right modern day Republican is that their views are purportedly based on their Christian faith. I could tell you everything MLK and MLK Day mean to me, but then I'd simply be repeating facts and peppering them with boring, nostalgic stories of how I was gradually and softly introduced to the reality of racism from a place of privilege.
In Crimes Against Logic, philosopher Jamie Whyte decries the Motivation Fallacy and its prevalence in politics. Too often, he argues, we fallaciously attempt to discredit a political argument not based on its substantive weaknesses, but by the malicious motivation of the arguer. Good things can be done for bad reasons. While this is all well and good, I don't think Dr. Whyte considers just how abysmally shallow American politics can be (he was, after all, a New Zealander in the UK at the time of the book's publication). So maybe I'm committing the dreaded fallacy of motivation, and my questioning here is, at best, irrelevant to the issues. But sometimes all that really exists in American politics is motivation. I cannot argue substance if there is no substance at hand to be argued.
So what, again, is the merit of jettisoning who King was as a person, and the reasons why he is revered as such a prominent figure, when associating with his name?
Also, what is this Orwellian effort to change the definitions of "racist" and "race baiting"? By this new Orwellian order, my entire post so far would be deemed "racist," and I myself guilty of "race baiting" for questioning any of this. How dare I bring race into a discussion about a civil rights leader, and politicians who overtly pander to people who hold prejudicial views? This seems to me a more sinister and conscious effort to censor and stymie legitimate concerns regarding race relations.
Meanwhile, in Arkansas they're still debating whether or not they should continue celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. on the same day as Robert E. Lee. The funniest part of that sad situation is the bit in the linked article about how proponents of having two separate days have to appeal to the business sense of their opponents. It would be better for prospective business if the state of Arkansas didn't appear to be so outlandishly backwards and insensitive, instead of it simply being better for Arkansas to not be backwards and insensitive. I propose that instead of separating King and Lee, Arkansas should add General William Tecumseh Sherman to complete a very festive historical trinity. Why wouldn't they want to do that?
I think all of this speaks to a core problem with racists that should seem obvious, but is so obvious that it's easy to overlook. Racists don't understand why racism is bad. They understand the simple fact that racism is considered bad, and it looks bad, and is not something to be openly embraced. But they can't understand, or don't care to understand just exactly why. It's important to remember that even the KKK claims not to be racist.