Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great personal inspiration to me and to all Americans interested in solving real, difficult, and painful issues in a way that promotes peace and encourages love, but is still unrelenting in the pursuit to get results. Like Gandhi, Dr. King prescribed non-violence to make right the immoral parts of the culture that had developed in their respective countries. Across the United States from Birmingham to Selma, from Jackson to Chicago and many places in between Dr. King mobilized his followers around a message of love even when oftentimes in reply they received hate and violence. What made his message so impactful is that his actions mirrored his words. His capacity to love in the face of hate stripped bare the ridiculousness of the “old way” that lingered even 100 years after the Civil War.
Dr. King knew that unless he was able to show the masses the depth of the racial problems of segregation, voter suppression, etc. that blacks faced in the 1960s that the politically expedient thing in Washington would be to continue to ignore the problem. This turning a blind eye acted as an unspoken stamp of approval for years because politically it was seen as the only way to win votes in the South. The 100 year delay this created in facing these issues made the situation that much more explosive and damaging when finally addressed.
Why did it take Dr. King and his supporters getting beaten and jailed and sometimes killed on television to make the federal government pass the Civil Rights Act and also start enforcing laws and Constitutional amendments that had been around since the end of the Civil War? Does that say something about us as Americans or about people in general? Unless things personally affect us we are more likely to turn a blind eye than to make a principled argument for what is right. And then, if we are personally affected negatively by the change, even if it is logical and moral change we try to resist that change. I am not a social scientist, but this seems a pattern throughout human history.
In our two party system, principles are sacrificed for political expediency routinely. This is because of the two-party system not in spite of it. For Civil Rights in the South from the end of the Civil War to the 1960s the politically expedient thing was for Democrats to ignore the injustices to keep the Dixie-crats in the party across the South and Republicans, while generally against segregation, were too afraid to stand up against it forcefully due to the fear that it would cost them support in other places in the country. Only when the injustice became so abhorrent and broadcast on television and given a principled, articulate defense by Dr. King was there change.
The problem created by the two-party system, which takes the principles out of our political landscape persists today. We see it broadcast 24-7 on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Depending on which party wins an election or has more seats in Congress suddenly the partisan elites start acting and talking differently about issues. Here is just one of many possible examples: When Democrats controlled the Senate and Senator Harry Reid was the majority leader it was okay to disregard the rules on cloture (requiring only 51 votes instead of 60- the so called “nuclear option”) for Presidential nominees and judicial appointments made by President Obama. How does that sound now that Republicans control the Senate and President-elect Trump is picking the nominees? The Constitution allows for this type of rule change, so it is not unconstitutional, but it speaks well to the principle-less environment created by the two-parties. You see, neither party can effectively argue for or against the use of the “nuclear option”. Democrats actually used it back in 2013 and 2014 in order to get some of President Obama’s nominees through the Senate that Republicans were trying to block. They actually did it! Therefore, when the question comes up now whether or not the Republicans can do the same to get through Mr. Trump’s picks, well the Democrats already set the precedent and not that long ago. Republicans on the other hand were very much against the Democrats using the “nuclear option” in those Reid years. They said it violated Senate tradition and trounced on the ability of the minority party to have a voice- something the U.S. Senate needs in order to be the best deliberative body it can be. So Republicans, did that belief in the importance of the minority party having a say change or were you full of it when that argument was made a few years ago?
As the New Third Way learned from President Washington, the two-party structure creates so many of these problems that cause confusion and distrust in the American people and makes debates about principles obsolete. Dr. King transcended these divisions because he stuck to his principles- That all men are created equal and should be treated as such under the law and that men should not be judged by the color of their skin but only by the content of their character. You can’t say it much better than that. Thanks for reading.