Where Do We Go From Here?
Games of Hope We Play in the Middle of Trump’s Night
The title is a line from a song by the Alan Parsons Project, Games People Play. It was haunting to me as a child, forecasting a future of middle age when the children are grown and gone, and “nobody gives us a damn.” But more importantly it is also the title of the last book of the great American Martin Luther King Junior. What is sad today, as I write on this holiday, this Martin Luther King Day, the 35th anniversary celebrating his life and legacy, is that there is little celebration. The top of the mountain feels a long way off.
The haunting echo of the singer’s loneliness and the contradicting uplifting message that resonates from King seem both fitting as we face the future. Can we bring the peaceful fight King inspired into the desolate aftermath of a racist presidential legacy, knowing his followers will press on with their prejudice? Are there those of us who are young who will climb King’s mountain?
There is little understanding of how to do that. My nine-year-old asked me what we should do on this holiday. No flags are flown like on Veteran’s or Memorial Day, no turkey dinner, no fireworks. I said to her maybe we can start something like an Easter egg hunt. I’m not religious, so the Easter egg hunt to me is just purely a fantasy game. She’s not religious either but said that of course Easter is for Easter egg hunts. She loves the egg hunt every year, coloring hardboiled eggs, plastic ones mixed with chocolate eggs and small prizes inside. Those things give her a sense of hope and joy, festivity, togetherness, even in the absence of religion. It is a recognized holiday because of the positive ritual people engage in.
But what we do to show joyous respect Martin Luther King Day like that Easter eggs hunting gives children in our hearts on Easter? We don’t engage in joyous ritual that helps reflect on the impactful change Civil Rights gave. We do feel the momentous change he brought to our country, lifting up a people with hope and dignity. And now we can feel why we need it, in the aftermath of Trump. A core group of his supporters in this country still believes they are King of the mountain, their mountain.
As a white man who grew up with a pacifist mother and father who was a theology professor and minister, I knew that Dr. King’s legacy was extremely important. My parents were married with three children when King was shot and recalled the shock. They felt how he brought about change and remembered the race riots of the 1960’s, having lived through one in Philadelphia. The 60’s may mean hippie love to some, but that really got going in 67, 68 or so. To blacks that suffered the scars of the riots, it may not have been the same Summer of Love.
MLK used the power of non-violence and peaceful protest to confront police forces. He surmised what the country’s reaction while seeing black protesters being beaten on TV. Peaceful protesters who simply wanted an equal chance were bashed to the ground by police batons as they crossed the Alabama bridge to get their right to vote. Today, when we can read about ‘we’ and ‘the country’s reaction’ and stop pretending there was a whole country reacting the same way. White southerners probably by and large were not revolted or in shock. Black Southerners probably had seen this violence, lived under rumors of it, and knew what they were in for.
The white supremacists at the Storming of the Capitol on January 6 appeared on TV as well, and even filmed and streamed their own accounts. Unlike King, they vastly miscalculated the nation’s reactions. Some of them may not have been hard core racists or supremacists, but to the larger middle of the road public and left wing, they won’t escape that branding.
Those sympathizers who watched may have been emboldened and able to recruit a few new followers in the years to come. But the centrist GOP politicians know their brand has been seriously injured. This was not the Trump legacy they wanted, but it was what they worked for when they ‘went along to get along’ for four years with, as Lindsey Graham said in 2016, “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
But what do we do now? Can we find a peaceful ritual that helps ‘us’ move on? Without of course the false narrative this time of being united and healed. We know this time ‘they’ won’t be coming along. Hiding colored eggs would not be a good tribute. What activity could we dream up, like a bunny and eggs, to celebrate the arrival of spring, or a jolly white bearded man in the dark of winter that sneaks into our home once a year to deliver our gifts to our kids.
Should we rely on the marketplace to create some symbol we can consume? Candy always seems to inspire ritual’s for holiday participation. Most of us and Mars and Hersey can agree on capitalist 50% off sales on candy after the holiday. Should we rely on the government? Can we sing the Black National Anthem on this day in town squares, as representative Jim Clyburn suggests? There really has not been any change in America that has come about so profoundly because of a deliberate movement based on non-violence as King’s. A song is a start. Maybe flash mobs of singers, whites and Latinos joining blacks in meetups. What else could we do on this day?
It is sad to see that I looked at an article in the New York Times on King and it had only 61 comments by mid-day. This was a man who tried to achieve equal treatment and better living conditions for blacks and for poor workers through peaceful means. A man who didn’t use threats of violence against his enemies, didn’t hurl insults against the people he opposed. Who didn’t seek to divide the nation but indeed to unite it for dignity and respect for all.
And yet Trump articles in the Times get thousands of comments before noon. Mostly hatred of him, true, some more even-handed. Dr. King on his day gets 61. Extremist violence and horrible tweets conjured up articles and comments swallowing up our media and news outlets for over four years. While those like King who seek fair and free reforms for everyone get little notice.
The violence of the Trump protesters, throughout his term and culminating in the Storming of the Capitol, is antithetical to King’s beliefs, whose technique of non-violence showed a welcoming promised land not just for blacks in their centuries’ long struggle, but for all distinct and diverse groups. Dr. King’s nonviolence tactic showed the way by creating an atmosphere of acceptance for those who took this journey.
Trump used violence to separate us, openly opposing diversity and egging on white supremacists with his dog whistles, with his endless rallies. King and his message, though, are the truth we need now. Those that gathered with him at the Washington Mall in 1963 to see the mountain top tried to raise democracy up, not tear it down.
Ironically, King’s words and deeds inspire me as a white man more than Trump’s, who only disgusted me and made me feel ashamed of my skin color. Martin Luther King Jr. made America great, and once a year he does so again when we honor his legacy. What can we do to celebrate this kind of inclusion that is the true beacon of hope in the heart of the torch on the Statue of Liberty?