Donald Trump

Steve Bannon says Martin Luther King Jnr would be ‘proud’ of Donald Trump; King’s daughter says otherwise

Bernice King takes to Twitter to push back at the assertions by the former Trump strategist, whom she said ‘has dangerously and erroneously co-opted my father’s name, work and words’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 3:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 7:25am

Reverend Bernice King – an activist and the daughter of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jnr – has accused the former White House aide Stephen Bannon of “co-opting” her father’s legacy to support his nationalist politics.

“#SteveBannon has dangerously and erroneously co-opted my father’s name, work and words,” she tweeted on Wednesday. “Bannon’s assertion that my father, #MLK, would be proud of Donald Trump wholly ignores Daddy’s commitment to people of all races, nationalities, etc. being treated with dignity and respect.”

Bannon is the latest conservative to suggest President Trump was helping to fulfil the dreams of King.

Bannon, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs who moved from being the co-founder of a highly influential alt-right website to the White House chief strategist, shared his thoughts on how King would view the president’s job-creation successes on BBC’s “Newsnight”.

He said he believed King “would be proud of” Trump for creating jobs for black and Hispanic people.

“If you look at the policies of Donald Trump, anybody – Martin Luther King – would be proud of him, what he’s done for the black and Hispanic community for jobs,” Bannon said. “It’s the lowest unemployment in recorded history. You don’t think Martin Luther King would be proud?”

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“Look at the unemployment rate we had five years ago,” he added. “You don’t think Martin Luther King would sit there and go: ‘You’re putting black men and women to work. Lowest unemployment rate in history, and wages are starting to rise among the working class. And you’re finally stopping the illegal alien labour force that’s coming in to compete with them every day and destroying the schools and destroying the health care.’ Absolutely.”

Absolutely not, King’s daughter tweeted.

“My father’s concerns were not sectional, but global. He was an activist for the civil rights of Black people in America, but he was also an activist for human rights. #MLK

“Further, he would not refer to people as ‘illegal aliens.’ The term is degrading and does not reflect his belief that we are all a part of the human family. #MLK”

In fact, King tweeted, her father would be disturbed by the types of leaders who have emerged in the current political climate.

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“Bannon’s comments are like feeding someone empty calories, in that they don’t convey a comprehensive view of #MLK as a global humanitarian who cared about the well-being of all people.

“My father would be extremely disturbed by the climate created by leaders, who have emboldened people to easily express and demonstrate cruelty, predominantly toward people of color and immigrants. #MLK”

Most Americans think Trump is racist, according to a February poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, but he regularly points to gains in the job market as proof that he has been a good president for black and Latino Americans, groups that disproportionately voted against him in the 2016 election.

After the hip-hop artist Kanye West reiterated his support for Trump and aligned himself with critics of black Democrats, the president went on Twitter last month to praise the rapper and pointed to historic low employment rates.

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“Kanye West has performed a great service to the Black Community – Big things are happening and eyes are being opened for the first time in Decades – Legacy Stuff! Thank you also to Chance and Dr. Darrell Scott, they really get it (lowest Black & Hispanic unemployment in history).”

But what Trump and Bannon do not acknowledge when talking about unemployment rates is that those gains in the job market cannot be solely attributed to the current administration. They actually began before he entered office. The president and his supporters taking credit is not a conclusion backed by data.

Philip Bump of The Washington Post previously wrote that Trump’s claims are “very misleading.”

“It’s not as if black unemployment was 18 per cent under Barack Obama and, as soon as Trump took office, it plummeted. Black unemployment fell fairly consistently from 2010 on, as did the rates for whites and Hispanics.

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“From January to December 2017, the unemployment rate among black Americans fell 1 percentage point. During the same period in 2016, it fell the same amount. In 2015, it fell 1.9 points. The previous year, it fell 1.5 points. The year before that, it fell 1.8 points.”

Bannon’s comments come during the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign, an initiative King started to draw more attention to how the civil rights of low-income Americans were constantly in jeopardy.

The pastor wanted people of colour to have the same economic opportunities that white Americans enjoyed, but doing so would require combating racism in workplaces, policymaking and other spaces.

A current civil rights leader, Reverend William Barber, tried to pick up where King left off last week when he launched a month-long movement called the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

King’s daughter endorsed the movement on Twitter after Bannon’s comments.

“Finally, #MLKwould be proud of a livable wage for all and not merely a low unemployment rate. #PoorPeoplesCampaign”

Barber, a frequent Trump critic, sees the president’s impact on the economic advancement of people of colour quite differently than Bannon, but representative of a much larger problem in the Republican Party.

“We can’t just lay this reality of what we’re seeing at the feet of Trump,” the liberal minister said in January on “Democracy Now!”

“Trump is a symptom of a deeper moral malady,” Barber continued. “And if he was gone tomorrow or impeached tomorrow, the senators and the House of Representatives … and all them would still be there.

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“When we look at them, no matter how crazy they call him or names they call him or anger they get with him, it’s all a front, because at the end of the day, they might disagree with his antics, but they support his agenda.”

Alluding to King is not uncommon for Bannon and others on the right. King’s daughter and others on the left regularly call out conservatives for cherry-picking his message, saying that King’s words have to be seen in their full context.

“My father was working to eradicate the Triple Evils of Racism (prejudice + power = oppression/destruction of a race deemed inferior), Poverty (Materialism) & Militarism. Pointing out the group that most commonly benefits from all 3 is not ‘labeling.’ Truth before reconciliation.”