Nearly every time black people needed him to speak to our sorrows, history or aspirations, Barack Obama rose to the occasion. Now the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder looms, and there is literally nothing Donald Trump can say that will be equal to the moment.
I am not looking forward to April 4.
In fact, I’ve been dreading it for months. April 4 is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the day Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis. As such, it is one of those days when a president is called upon for wise words of summation and honor.
Unfortunately, the president to whom that task now falls is Donald Trump.
The churning in my stomach at the remembrance of that fact is a visceral reminder of just how much President Obama spoiled us all. Particularly African Americans.
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For eight years, through black folks’ milestones and tragedies, the one thing we could depend upon was that our joy and pain would be reflected back to us and communicated out from us with compassion, insight and eloquence. When we commemorated the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Obama reminded us how the sacrifices of ordinary people on an ordinary bridge venerated freedom and inspired the unfree around the world. When we mourned Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight other people massacred in a church for the crime of being black, he reminded us how amazing is grace.
Nearly every time black people needed him to speak to our sorrows, history or aspirations, Barack Obama rose to the occasion. Now April 4 looms and it occurs to me there is literally nothing Donald Trump can say that will be equal to the moment.
Maybe someone will write him some eloquent words, and he’ll read them with that stilted cadence and squinty glare he uses when trying to seem presidential. Or maybe he’ll point out that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the civil rights movement.
It doesn’t matter. One will be as meaningless as the other. He will fall short of the moment, not because he is white — either President Bill Clinton or President George W. Bush would certainly do a fine job — but rather, because he is Trump. He has no credibility here.
By contrast, President Obama seemed tailored for such moments, as if sent from some celestial Central Casting to testify to the possibilities and potential inherent in black lives — as if built in some lab to remind African Americans to persevere and dream because … look what can happen when we do.
Sadly, the guy who replaced him is a reminder, too: America is still America. And in America, a thrice-married white guy can support an accused child molester, reportedly pay off porn stars, muse about being president for life and support confiscating guns without due process, yet remain, for many of us, morally preferable to a black guy who has been married to the same woman going on 26 years, never supported a child molester, never paid off a porn star, always respected the peaceful transfer of power and never spoke of confiscating guns, much less without due process.
The same people who professed to find sinister tidings in the black guy’s birth certificate, childhood and work as a community organizer cheer the white guy as he daily soils himself and the Oval Office. Martin Luther King would have known exactly what to make of such moral hypocrisy.
So the best thing Trump can do for us on April 4 is to ignore it. Go golfing at Mar-a-Lago. Give Stormy Daniels a ring. Have some cake. Meantime, the rest of us will honor the radical prophet who died calling on America to vindicate its noble promises — something America still struggles to do, 50 years later.
Yes, by the simple fact of his existence, Barack Obama reminds us how far we’ve come toward that goal.
But Trump reminds us how very far we have yet to go.