This picture is a fake. It was photoshopped from a real picture taken of Dr. King on June 19, 1964, showing him giving the peace sign after hearing that the civil rights bill had passed the U.S. Senate.
Dr. King didn’t give us the finger in 1964. In 2018, we would certainly deserve it.
Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is a white supremacist. His victory was the crowing jewel of a resurgent white supremacist system – the same one Dr. King fought against, and the same one that murdered him. The rickety explanation that Trump’s election was nothing more than understandable working class anger collapses in the face of hard data proving it was racism that won him the day, not economic anxiety.
Trump governs in accordance with the ideology of white supremacy. It is visible across all of his policies, from immigration to criminal justice to foreign affairs. His Republican Party – in control of all three branches of the federal government and a majority of state governments – stands firmly behind him, and does not disavow his white supremacy.
So today, let us pause our inspirational memeing about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice and recognize for a moment that this is the government of the United States of America. Today, January 15, 2018, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
“We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
– MLK, Eulogy for the Martyred Children, Sept. 18, 1963
Trump does not govern alone. Just as it’s important to understand the system of white supremacy that produced him, it is also critical to identify enablers and co-conspirators who, through both action and inaction, allow his white supremacist government to survive and thrive.
A confederacy of dunces and hate
On January 9 in the state capitol, during, of all things, a harassment and ethics training session at the House of Representatives, LD 10 Representative Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) opened his personal laptop which displayed an image of the confederate flag. LD 4 Representative Geraldine Peten (D-Goodyear), one of only two African-American legislators in Arizona, confronted Mr. Clodfelter about the image and asked him to take it down. He initially refused, and said the two lawmakers would have to “agree to disagree.” According to Mr. Clodfelter,
All my family and ancestry is from the South. And my perspective of the imagery of that particular flag is not the same as hers. So from my perspective, it’s acceptable. From hers, it’s offensive.”
Mr. Clodfelter later agreed not to bring his personal laptop to the House floor. He told Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller he continues to have a favorable view of the Southern cause, and the confederate flag “represents sovereignty and freedom and revolution toward tyranny.” This is white supremacist ideology. It is also a lie.
With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system…Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.” – Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.” – Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession, January 9, 1861
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.” – Texas’ Declaration of Secession, February 2, 1861
The confederacy stood for slavery and white supremacy. Its flag celebrates “southern culture and history” only in the same way the Nazi flag celebrates German heritage. The sole difference between the stars & bars and the swastika is that Arizona politicians still feel comfortable displaying the symbol of 19th Century white supremacist genocide inside our state capitol, but draw the line at showing off its 20th Century counterpart.
What is most depressing about Mr. Clodfelter and his prideful adherence to white supremacy is that today, under this President and this government, it is banal. There are hundreds of Todd Clodfelters in state capitols across the U.S., and they are a crucial to normalizing our white supremacist President and his – our – white supremacist government.
Introducing the next Senator from the great state of Arizona
On January 12, Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-CD2) announced her candidacy for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. During her announcement in Tucson, Ms. McSally made sure to normalize and excuse Trump’s white supremacist condemnation of Haitian, Salvadoran, and African immigrants as coming from “shithole” countries. “I speak a little salty behind closed doors,” the Congresswoman said. Ms. McSally’s campaign announcement video is a masterful amalgam of fear-mongering, dog-whistle racism, and militaristic cheerleading. In it, the Congresswoman explicitly sides with our white supremacist President. She flashes a picture of them posing together and smiling, she brags that she is “Arizona’s most reliable vote for the Trump agenda,” and she plays an audio clip of Trump lauding her as “the real deal” and his “friend.”
Not much analysis or commentary is needed here. “The Trump agenda” is white supremacy, and nothing advances that agenda more effectively than voting for it in Washington. And yet, today Ms. McSally will still be invited to take some stage and lionize the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If Malcom were here he would recognize this old ruse; the approach of the angel who is really nothing but the devil.
Sadly for us Democrats, the system, the way of life, the philosophy of white supremacy is bipartisan. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-CD9) is also running for Senator Flake’s seat. Ms. Sinema did not brag about her loyalty to the Trump agenda in her campaign announcement video – the sins of that piece of political theatre are of a different order. However if we are taking Dr. King’s admonition seriously, we cannot fail to note how studiously Ms. Sinema avoids opposing our white supremacist President, and the white supremacist policies of his white supremacist government. Her campaign website mentions no policies and takes no positions – it is strictly a fundraising vehicle.* The “latest news” section of her congressional website contains not a single condemnation of anything Trump has ever said. None of her seven legislative priorities include combating Trumpism, and her solutions for “fixing a broken Washington” are limited to withholding congressional salaries until a budget is passed, expanding election spending disclosure rules, and cutting government waste and inefficiency. When you are U.S Congressperson, whose full-time job is to propose, to oppose, and to govern, silence is acquiescence. It is consent. Only a tiny fraction of southerners donned white masks and robes and murdered black men, women, and children during the 1950s and 60s. It was the silence of the majority, who turned their heads and closed their lips, that allowed the white supremacist terrorism of that era to claim so many lives.
Maybe – probably – Mr. Clodfelter, Ms. McSally, and Ms. Sinema do not think their actions and inactions support a system of white supremacy. Maybe – probably – they claim there is no racism in their hearts, and their positions on race and Trump are expedient choices all good politicians must make in order advance their real agendas. Maybe. But on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when all three will almost certainly march, and be invited to the microphone to mouth empty platitudes about how they too have a dream, they are not fooling the good doctor. And neither are we. He’s not giving us the peace sign today. Today, he’s giving us the finger.
– Joel Feinman
*Editors note: this statement was accurate when this piece was first published in January, 2018. Beginning in March 2018, the website included a “priorities” page.