In The Face of “Hail Trump,” Dan Rather Asks Us to Follow Martin Luther King

In The Face of “Hail Trump,” Dan Rather Asks Us to Follow Martin Luther King November 22, 2016

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I admit I haven’t followed Dan Rather’s career or politics, nor read any of his books. I think of Mr. Rather as “that fellow I used to see when my mother watched the evening news while I was growing up.”

I recently started following his public Facebook page and I have found his remarks sensible– I think he has decent reasons for what he says and that he helps the national conversation.

I entirely agree with Mr. Rather’s post a few hours ago about Richard B. Spencer’s “Hail Trump” speech yesterday. You can read it yourself, but please bear with me while I quote the passages that struck me most and tell you why they did so.

“This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law.

When I see neo-Nazis raise their hands in terrifying solute, in public, in our nation’s capital, I shudder in horror. When I see that action mildly rebuked by a boilerplate statement from the President-elect whom these bigots have praised, the anger in me grows. And when I see some in a pliant press turn that mild statement into what they call a denunciation I cannot hold back any longer.”

I definitely agree- when someone suggests that hearkening back to Nazism should be so much as a tolerable  undercurrent of our national discourse – then this appeal is not politics as usual or standard over-stated denunciation of the “other side.” It is nothing less than the suggestion that we as a nation ought not to have any discernible moral center whatsoever.

I fully support the free speech of those who wish to join Spencer’s ghastly appeal. But I even more zealously support our national, communal and personal obligations to denounce their evil for what it is. We, as a nation, and Catholic citizens in particular, must expose appeals to racial, demographic, or other forms of supremacism as the perversions that they are. We dare not judge them a tolerable, much less an acceptable, influence on our morality, our politics or our communal identity.

Also, I had failed to notice just how timid and not entirely honest the Trump transition team’s statement about the incident was – until Mr. Rather brought it to my attention. I heard the display had been “denounced” and, since I wasn’t writing about it, I took that statement at face value. But what was actually said was that “President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind” – which sounds like a misrepresentation. Argue as you will about whether or not Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has been explicitly racist – as far as I know he does not seem to have noticed or been bothered by drawing racists supporters until after his election.

President-elect Trump considers it a good use of his time to denounce personally the cast of Hamilton but not to denounce more vigorously Spencer’s attempt to give Trump quasi-Nazi branding. This fills me with distrust of his wisdom, his vision for our country, and his leadership.

More from Dan Rather:

“Our Declaration of Independence bequeaths us our cherished foundational principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These truths may be self-evident but they are not self-replicating. Each generation has to renew these vows. This nation was founded as an opposite pole to the capriciousness of an authoritarian monarch. We set up institutions like a free press and an independent court system to protect our fragile rights. We have survived through bloody spasms of a Civil War and a Civil Rights Movement to extend more of these rights to more of our citizens. But the direction of our ship of state has not always been one of progress. We interned Japanese Americans, Red Baited during the McCarthy era, and more. I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.

In normal times of a transition in our presidency between an incoming and outgoing administration of differing political parties, there is a certain amount of fretting on one side and gloating on the other. And the press usually takes a stance that the new administration at least deserves to have a chance to get started – a honeymoon period. But these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education – even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption.”

This is insightful, true, and a fair commentary on our present political climate.

I also wish to join my voice to Mr. Rather’s closing appeal:

“To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties.

We are a great nation. We have survived deep challenges in our past. We can and will do so again. But we cannot be afraid to speak and act to ensure the future we want for our children and grandchildren.”

Too often, when I hear Martin Luther King invoked by one of my fellow white Americans, it brings to mind the warning of Matt 23:29-31 . His message of equality- a message not only about civic virtue, but also about the social implications of the gospel  – never failed to be controversial during his life. I fear that too often his hero status can lead us to take his legacy for granted and tempt us not to truly hear his prophetic witness still speaking to us today. But the appeal feels right in this context. What he did so tirelessly and courageously, may we also do.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

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