In the wee hours of Thursday morning, CNN’s Jeffrey Lord was still at it, tweeting out links to Martin Luther King Jr. speeches and professing his love and admiration for the slain civil rights leader.
“A hero unafraid to oppose judging by skin color,” Lord wrote in one tweet.
“I stand with Dr. King,” read another. “If you think that’s the wrong side of history, I disagree. Strongly.”
Lord, a conservative commentator employed by CNN to be a Donald Trump defender, had had quite a day.
It started with an appearance on one of the network’s early morning shows, during which he called President Trump “the Martin Luther King of health care.” King and Trump were the same, Lord said, in the sense that they both used moments of crisis to pass legislation.
In the words of one news anchor who heard the comparison: “Oh, boy.”
Lord’s remarks — and the wave of outrage they triggered — became fodder for a full day’s worth of high-decibel CNN entertainment, with various people in varying degrees of dudgeon brought on to excoriate him.
In appearances on three shows and in an column for CNN’s website, Lord dug in his heels to defend the Trump-King comparison, twisting himself into a rhetorical pretzel as hosts, guests and a chorus of social media users took turns pummeling him.
It a typical Lord moment, except it lasted all day and into the early morning Friday. Since joining the network as a paid analyst in June 2015, he has fashioned his full-throated and outlandish defenses of Trump into something of a brand. In turn, his critics online and his interlocutors on CNN have made a sport out of shooting him down.
At some point Lord’s defenses — rather than his initial remarks — became the main discussion topic. The night ended with a visibly frustrated CNN host Don Lemon cutting his show off several minutes early, leaving Lord, who stood by his statements through it all, to try to get the last word on Twitter.
It began at the crack of dawn Thursday on CNN’s New Day, where they were discussing health-care legislation. Trump had just threatened to withhold federal subsidies to health insurers in hopes of forcing Democrats to negotiate an Obamacare replacement.
Impressed with that approach, Lord saw a creative historical parallel — one he knew would draw controversy.
“I want to say something here that will probably drive Symone crazy,” he said on the show, addressing co-guest Symone Sanders, a Democratic strategist and Trump critic who is African American.
“Think of President Trump as the Martin Luther King of health care,” Lord said. “When I was a kid, President Kennedy did not want to introduce the civil rights bill because he said it wasn’t popular, he didn’t have the votes for it, et cetera. Dr. King kept putting people in the streets in harm’s way to put the pressure on so that the bill would be introduced. That’s what finally worked.”
The formulation drew groans from Sanders and host Alisyn Camerota.
“Jeffrey, you do understand that Dr. King was marching for civil rights because people that looked like me were being beaten,” Sanders said. “Dogs were being sicced on them. Basic human rights were being withheld from these people merely because of the color of their skin. So let’s not equate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a humanitarian, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner, to the vagina-grabbing president Donald Trump.”
Predictably, the remarks prompted backlash on Twitter. Lord responded by elaborating in a column, saying he made the comparison “deliberately and with reason.” Quoting from King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” — which advocated using civil disobedience to force people to confront racial injustice — Lord argued that although Trump and King’s goals were different, their tactics were the same. Lord wrote:
In other words, whether he knows it or not (and I suspect not) President Trump is using Dr. King’s strategy — in Dr. King’s own words — ‘to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.’ ”
In Dr. King’s day, the objective was negotiation that would lead to the passage of civil rights legislation. Today, President Trump is using the threat of crisis to negotiate his stated objective of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. Different goals, yes. But the strategy of creating a crisis to obtain a specific legislative outcome is exactly the same.
CNN milked it on two different evening news shows. First, Anderson Cooper hauled him in to spar with CNN’s Bakari Sellers, who said Lord had “perverted” King’s legacy.
“The crisis was about the treatment of black Americans in this country. It wasn’t a crisis manufactured by Dr. King,” Sellers told him. Cooper, too, told Lord, “I don’t see how they’re the same.”
The debate continued virtually uninterrupted on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, where Lord sparred with Sanders (again), Sellers (again) and another panelist. The discussion grew increasingly bitter as the segment progressed, with Lord and the others shouting over each other. At one point, Lord tried to tell a story about his childhood growing up in the South, prompting Lemon to yell, “I don’t want to hear about stuff from 50 goddamn years ago!”
After several more minutes of back-and-forth, Lemon cut the show off early. “Goodnight,” he said, “we’re done.”
But Lord was not done. Over the next hour or so, he took to Twitter to respond to his critics and advertise his apparent racial sensitivity. His last tweets came well after midnight, and included links to videos of King’s “I have a dream” speech and “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” King’s final public address before he was assassinated.
All the while, Lord continued to defend the remarks he began his day with, this time invoking the name of another civil rights legend.
“Think Gandhi,” he wrote.
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