“Political Language is designed to make lies sound truthful, and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.” George Orwell
The rhetoric of the so-called right and the left are, as I type, reaching a fevered pitch. It’s not that I’m anti-rhetoric. I love the Big R. But the nature of this is getting beyond enjoyable. One side pronounces Obama a devil, the other side a savior. Couple the hyperbole stemming from the inauguration with the national ‘honoring’ of King, and well . . . let’s just say I won’t be getting on Facebook today (too late, I already did. I had to share Nitty’s Nasty Girl with some friends).
The following is an older article of mine discussing the U.S.’s ‘crowning’ of King. It was originally published by Christian Ethics Today and was titled, Dethroning a King. It’s been re-published (and slightly re-vamped) in Third Way Allegiance. Given the ‘giddiness’ from those on the left who somehow think that the historical continuity from ‘King to Obama’ equals The Peaceable Kingdom, this could be helpful (though I’m certainly not entertaining much hope):
“A dangerous Negro, now a national hero. How shall we work with that?” Vincent Harding
In a brief essay titled, Martin Luther King, Jr: Dangerous Prophet, Vincent Harding (a colleague of King) reminds his readers that as easy as it is to forget that Jesus was an executed criminal who undermined the very politics that makes this fallen world turn, so too is it both easy and tempting to twist King into our own image, who is no longer a prophet, but an idol that serves rather than questions our interests.
In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. was called the most dangerous Negro in the United States because he posed a threat to the very precious ideals that, unfortunately, continue to underwrite our socio-economic and political culture. This same man is now revered as a national saint. The question that must be asked is: Did we undergo the changes that King demanded-an alternative economy, the practice of nonviolence, and the ceasing of imperialism? Or, has his message somehow changed since his death so that it can accommodate that for which he gave his life in protest?
For instance, how is it possible that a man who once preached against the evils of capitalism be awarded heroic status in a capitalist culture? How is it possible that a person who decried the wickedness that is war be remembered as a patriotic saint in the world’s strongest warring machine? How is it that a Christian pastor, who so intuitively understood how racism, classism, and militarism go hand in hand, be remembered as an icon in a culture perpetually divided by these oppressive horrors? Finally, how is it possible that organizations such as GM Motors, Tommy Hilfiger, Exxon, Coca-Cola, Disney, Wal-Mart and McDonalds, seven of the greatest purveyors of Western imperialism in existence, be major benefactors for a one hundred million dollar plus memorial in his name? This is, ironically, a memorial that will be placed in a city known throughout the world as having a serious homeless problem.
Would King not be appalled by the very idea of spending so much money on a monument in his name in D.C., while countless people in that same city go to bed cold and hungry? Is this memorial actually talking about the same Martin Luther King, Jr. who argued that the United States, if it is to achieve equality, requires a completely restructured economy (in his words a “modified socialism”)? Will this memorial serve to remind us of who King is or, in its very utilization of such vast economic resources, will its very existence actually make it easier to forget who he really was?
Apparently the King so often touted today is not the same man as the King of 1963. For the King who was hated and eventually assassinated for his dangerous and subversive ideals (that is, standing with the poor) has now become a part of the very machine he protested. In a sense, it is pure brilliance on the part of the empire. The best way to deal with a dangerous radical like King is to domesticate him. Claim him. Say you love him. Give him a national ‘holy’ day, and in doing so, you can stand free from any claims he might have upon us. He no longer stands above the American people holding us accountable for our jingoist practices. He no longer stands apart from us demanding that we restructure our society so that there need not be any poor among us, rather we have become exactly that which he was attempting to avoid: richer, yet poorer.
King had no interest in liberating one group of people so that they could simply participate in the evils that another group of people had perfected; rather, he wanted to overturn the entire edifice so that all people could practice justice, charity, and love toward one another. But now, warring presidents gleefully quote him, ‘supporters’ cash in on his name, and the largest capitalist corporations on the planet support the building of a monument that, it seems, only the wealthy could truly enjoy. For what will the starving poor person think about as he or she peers at the expensive image of Martin Luther King, Jr.? I imagine they will think that the ‘King’ is dead.
And now, Cornel West throws it down:
And now, for a little more perspective, a fine tune by our boys just north of us:
Four more years of War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength and Slavery is Freedom. Four more. May all your interventions be “Humanitarian”. Four more years of pay-to-play politics, power and influence. Four more years of legalized bribery and served corporate interests.
Vote for tweedle-dum or tweedle-dee
And a framework of debate narrowed for you courtesy
Of the ultra-rich and a media that filters
out any voice that challenges their power
(like Nader bounced in Boston by state-troopers
Cos he don’t speak for oil-tycoons and bankers, oh yeah
Whose pursuit of happiness and liberty
Demands a rhetoric of fear to be
The litmus test for viable heirs to
The phony drug-wars, the trumped-up rogue-states, the permance of a war-economy).
I feel less hopeful and less human
As I’m reduced to nothing more than
Cheering on embassy bombings
As the liars pave their way through
Yes, yes, yes: the juxtaposition of King’s nonviolence with Propagandhi’s admission that to cheer on embassy bombings makes them feel less human is intentional. My feeling is that the latter, in a jingoistic culture likes ours, is something of an achievement.
Okay, back to Nitty . . . because you know, I’d rather not think about this kind of shit today.
‘Whatcha got, Mr. Mans?’
‘I got a lotta money.’
Now, shh. Just be very, very quiet. It’ll all be over soon.
About the Author
Tripp York teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the author of more than half a dozen books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Purple Crown, and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming three-volume collection called the Peaceable Kingdom Series. An actor and a lighting designer, Tripp also surfs and spends his weekends shoveling elephant and giraffe poop.