In the many years since activists forced MLK Day on President Ronald Reagan, who’d initially objected that he wanted to make sure Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a Communist first, I’ve watched conservatives nervously confront the holiday, usually by either denouncing King, or by praising him as a conservative Republican.
Last year’s MLK Day was pretty special, with conservatives helping newly elected President Trump beat up congressman and King comrade John Lewis. This year’s was, too, as the president, famous for his racist remarks and actions, kicked off the festivities early by referring to Haiti and the nations of Africa as “shithole countries” in a meeting with congressional leaders.
Trump’s slur was revealed by unnamed sources and separately confirmed by GOP senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic senator Dick Durbin, but there were several rounds of partial and complete denials. The president himself vacillated; CNN’s Jake Tapper said he heard the president only called Africa a shithole, not Haiti; Rich Lowry of National Review claimed Trump said “shithouse,” not “shithole.” (Lowry nonetheless availed the preferred usage as a hook for an anti-immigrant post: “It’s not the s***holes that matter most,” he wrote, “it’s who we are getting from the s***holes.” Now that’s political journalism!)
Republican senator David Perdue flat-out denied Trump had said it, and Republican senator Tom Cotton said he didn’t hear it because he was humming to himself like he always does when he wants to pretend the Bad Thing isn’t happening. (I made that last part up, sorry.)
My guess is that both the presidential proclamation and the denials were done on purpose: the former to appeal to Trump’s base, the latter to give them the added thrill of condemning those outraged by it of spreading Fake News while secretly enjoying the knowledge that their leader — let’s see, how did the Washington Post put it? — “says what many think.”
The more polite rightbloggers found Trump’s comment, as House Speaker Paul Ryan did, more unfortunate than repulsive. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg mainly worried about “the risk of having people think that, when you pull off the mask of intelligent conservatism, all that lies underneath is the face of Trumpism.” His next line, lost in the ensuing laughter, was even better: “Trump is unaware of the sophisticated arguments for many of his positions.” If only someone would explain to him how his racist positions are actually Buckley-esque!
Other conservatives actually defended Trump’s comment. Prominent conservative intellectuals such as Dinesh D’Souza and Tomi Lahren argued in so many words that Haiti et alia were in fact shitholes, and there was nothing inappropriate in the president of the United States calling them that.
None of these worthies made an effort to identify “shitholes” that were not majority black, either because they could not imagine such a thing or because they could not imagine a Trump voter being excited by it.
MLK Day finally rolled around, and appropriate platitudes were mouthed by Republican politicians, including all the ones still in Congress who voted against the King holiday in the first place — see their touching tributes here!
White conservatives gave their black colleagues a rare moment in the limelight. At the Wall Street Journal, Shelby Steele proclaimed “Black Protest Has Lost Its Power,” citing the NFL protests associated with Colin Kaepernick, because “the oppression of black people is over with.” Steele also complained about “black-on-black crime,” natch, and said “counterprotests” to Kaepernick showed “a new willingness in whites…to say to blacks what they really think and feel” — presumably as did Trump when he called Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” and of course when he said that thing about the shitholes.
The Daily Caller and the Daily Signal pooled resources for a story by Amber Randall describing “How Young Black Conservative Women Are Changing the Face of the GOP,” which, given current voting patterns, is rather like describing how black fans are changing the makeup of the National Hockey League.
But as usual it was the white conservatives who really shit in the MLK Day party punch bowl. While the straight-up racists among them told their favorite campfire stories (“Thus the filmmakers behind ‘Selma’ intentionally cut out parts of the script that revealed King’s penchant for prostitutes”), the more housebroken ones tried to find some way to associate themselves with King without endorsing any of his beliefs.
Despite the recent unpleasantness, some tried to do it with Trump.
“While former President Barack Obama claimed to be a champion of helping blacks, it appears President Donald Trump is the only one committed to actually honoring his promise to help minorities in the U.S.,” declared Martin Walsh of Conservative Daily Post. His evidence: Trump signed bills designating King’s birthplace a national historical park and creating a 400 Years of African-American History Commission. Now what did Obama ever do for black people?
“Hey President Trump,” wrote Siraj Hashmi at the Washington Examiner, “MLK Day would be a good time to criticize the FBI.” See, the FBI harassed King, and now they’re harassing Trump with their “probe into the Trump campaign’s connections” — why, it’s like they’re brothers (no offense, Mr. President).
Jeffrey Lord — whom you may remember from when he told a stunned Van Jones on CNN that the KKK is “leftist” — declared at the American Spectator that “the American Left has rejected not just Dr. King but in fact stayed true to the original racist roots of the Democratic Party.” If you already guessed Lord quoted “content of their character,” then said something about “identity politics,” this clearly isn’t your first time at the rodeo. (Lord gets bonus points for this line: “Somewhere Dr. King is shaking his head in disgust.”)
When they were reminded that, in addition to voting rights, King advocated for a universal basic income and denounced not only racism but also “economic exploitation and militarism,” conservatives reacted badly. When CNN reported that King was a socialist, for example, Twitchy argued, “Go home, CNN, you’re DRUNK…dumbest take YET…DAFUQ?…What in the blue Hell are they talking about?” and other such bon mots. Oh, also: “Martin Luther King Jr. was actually a registered Republican.” Checkmate!
As the festivities died down, rightbloggers began to return their attention to their real hero of the week: James Damore, who got fired from Google last year after circulating a memo saying women were unsuited to programming work due to “biological reasons” and innate “neuroticism,” and who announced last week that he was filing a lawsuit claiming Google discriminated against him because he’s a white male conservative.
Rightbloggers rushed to defend Damore’s civil rights and those of others like him, i.e., themselves.
“James Damore’s Lawsuit Exposes Google’s Culture of Ignorant Intolerance,” cried David French at National Review, offering bombshell findings from Damore’s filing like this: At Google “an employee advertises a workshop on ‘healing from toxic whiteness.’ Another post mocks ‘white fragility.’ ” It’s a veritable honkycaust!
The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski had more: Google had also held “an internal presentation urging sensitivity for employees who are ‘living as a plural being,’ ” he sneered. Also, in a note “addressed to ‘hostile voices,’ ” reported Tracinski, a Google manager said, “I will never, ever hire/transfer you onto my team.” What else could “hostile voices” possibly mean besides conservatives? “Google Is Becoming A Police State,” cried Tracinski.
Perhaps this was conservatives’ most sincere tribute to King: They may not believe any of the ideals for which he was persecuted, but they liked how his persecution had made him a hero, and hoped with Damore they could cosplay it for themselves — while skipping, of course, the actual persecution.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 16, 2018