I was shocked to hear comments from Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend, when he seemingly drew upon a passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963 to justify construction of a southern border wall.
The crux of King’s speech back then was to fight institutional bigotry, to end the plight of African Americans’ and other peoples of color’s statuses as second-class citizens in the United States. It’s hard to see how that speech could also be used to justify calls for a controversial barrier separating people from one another.
Yet Pence, while speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, used King’s words to justify forcing Democrats to accept the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,'” Pence said on the program, according to reporting from the Washington Post. “You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union.”
Pence went on to reason that, because King wanted change through the “legislative process,” it meant opposition to President Donald Trump’s border wall proposal should be passed by Congress immediately.
“That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on Congress to do. Come to the table in the spirit of good faith,” Pence said.
Pence's comments are as absurd as they are offensive. https://t.co/9UUsCHPOtz
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) January 21, 2019
The border wall is the driving point behind the current partial government shutdown. While a vigorous debate on whether such a wall is necessary or not may be warranted, using King as a means to push forward that debate, much less on the side of building a wall, is questionable at best.
It was King, in fact, in 1964 who railed against border walls, doing so in a speech in Berlin. There, he would condemn the wall that split the east and west sides of that city during the Cold War. According to previous reporting from the Inquisitr, King called such walls “symbol[s] of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” and condemned the Berlin Wall specifically for keeping people separated.
King’s son called out Pence for the use of his father’s quotes in trying to justify the modern-day wall in the U.S. “Martin Luther King Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder,” Martin Luther King III said on Monday.
The appalling way in which Pence used King’s words to justify a symbol of division was rightly blasted. But if we examine his words more closely, it’s clear that Pence is fighting a losing cause, especially while evoking the Civil Rights icon.
Pence suggested that King wanted change to come about through the legislative process — and indeed, through use of civil disobedience, King and other leaders like him had hoped for institutional change to come.
But in this instance of a border wall, the “legislative process” that Pence promoted in his statement has already rendered its decision.
Before the shutdown, the Republican-led Senate had already passed a bill keeping the government open without providing funds for the border wall. After Democrats assumed control of the House of Representatives, they, too, passed a bill ending the partial government shutdown without the wall.
The legislative process has clearly been carried out, as Pence desired. As a coequal branch of government, it has told him and the president that the American people do not want this wall built or funded.
Even if we look past the disingenuous way in which Pence used King’s sentiments, anyone with a sense of logic can see that the vice president is still in the wrong in doing so. Both King’s sense of morality and his desire to respect the “legislative process” requires Pence, not Congress, to bend on the issue of the border wall.