On the same day he is scheduled to have a physical checkup, President Donald Trump put on a display of athletic ability that will not soon be forgotten.
After the president signed a proclamation designating January 15 as Martin Luther King Day, he slipped out of the room displaying the speed of a man 40 years younger a reporter shouted, “Are you a racist, Mr. President?”
It wasn’t as if Trump had not set the stage for the kind of question that no one ever would have dreamed possible before January 20, 2017. He had dutifully read scripted words detailing the contributions of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As always, Trump appeared not to have bothered to read the words before he delivered them. He traced the words with his finger while staring at the page. Every once in a while, he lifted his head and looked at an audience that mostly consisted of reporters and a few handpicked conservative Republican African Americans and spoke one word, then quickly lowered his gaze to the page in front of him.
Had Trump read the speech beforehand, it is doubtful he would have recognized the irony of him being the man who had to put pen to paper to proclaim a federal holiday in honor of the civil rights leader.
“While Dr. King is no longer with his, his words and his vision grow stronger through time,” Trump said.
Considering the controversy over the comments the New York Times reported Trump made during a negotiation over DACA, it is amazing that lightning did not strike the president as he said, “No matter what the color of our skin or the place of birth, we are all created equal before God.”
Trump did not betray any surprise at the words on the page. He just kept reading.
He concluded his remarks saying, “Today we pledge to fight for his dreams of equality, freedom, justice and peace.”
The president then displayed why Dr. King’s battle for equality is far from over by introducing the only African American in his cabinet (there are none among his closest White House advisers), Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, to speak.
Carson delivered the words with the feeling and sincerity that Trump lacked, noting his own memories of learning as a high school student in Detroit in 1968 that Dr. King had been assassinated.
Carson brought a depth of feeling that Trump’s three-minute speech lacked.
“Far from silencing his dream,” Carson said, “death wrought him immortal in the American heart.”
As Carson delivered his remarks, Trump stood, sandwiched between two African Americans, nodding dutifully with an occasional smile as Carson revered Dr. King’s memory.
Based on Trump’s long history, from being a defendant in federal civil rights lawsuits in the ’70s to describing in scatological detail what he thought of countries whose inhabitants mostly have different skin color than his, you have to wonder what he was thinking as he listened to Carson’s eloquent delivery.
Were visions of Mexican rapists, s**thole countries, hate-filled neo-Nazis (some of them being good people, you know) and kneeling African American football players dancing in his head?
Or was he just waiting for the whole ceremony to end?
After Trump signed the proclamation and reporters began shouting questions at him, those questions were nearly all headed in a direction that Trump clearly did not intend to follow.
Did he really believe what it was reported he said about people from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa?
As Trump darted out the doorway, away from the hordes of people the New York Times reported he considers to be the nation’s enemy, April Ryan, the Washington bureau chief of American Urban Radio Networks, shouted the question that no president has ever heard at one of these events.
“Are you a racist, Mr. President?”
He ignored the question.
At the same time, it is clear that the Trump presidency has proven that Dr. King’s message is just as important today as it was a half-century ago.
Trump’s speechwriters clearly missed the message.
When Trump read about Dr. King’s accomplishments in fighting for “the civil rights of African Americans” the words did not ring true.
Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the civil rights of all Americans, a message that should be always be reinforced.
A message that Donald Trump has clearly never heard.