The Rev. Bernice King, an activist and the daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., has accused former White House aide Stephen K. Bannon of "co-opting" her father's legacy to support his nationalist politics.
#SteveBannon has dangerously and erroneously co-opted my father’s name, work and words," she tweeted Wednesday. "Bannon’s assertion that my father, #MLK, would be proud of Donald Trump wholly ignores Daddy’s commitment to people of all races, nationalities, etc. being treated with dignity and respect."
Bannon is the latest conservative to point to President Trump as someone who is helping fulfill the dreams of King.
Bannon, who rose from being the co-founder of a highly influential alt-right website to the White House chief strategist, shared his thoughts on how King would view the president's job creation successes on BBC's “Newsnight.” He said he believed King “would be proud of” Trump for creating jobs for black and Hispanic people.
“If you look at the policies of Donald Trump, anybody — Martin Luther King — would be proud of him, what he's done for the black and Hispanic community for jobs,” Bannon said. “It’s the lowest unemployment in recorded history. You don't think Martin Luther King would be proud?”
“Look at the unemployment rate we had five years ago,” he added. “You don’t think Martin Luther King would sit there and go: 'You're putting black men and women to work. Lowest unemployment rate in history, and wages are starting to rise among the working class. And you're finally stopping the illegal alien labor force that's coming in to compete with them every day and destroying the schools and destroying the health care.' Absolutely.”
Absolutely not, King's daughter tweeted.
In fact, King said, her father would be disturbed by the types of leaders who have emerged in the current political climate.
Trump, who most Americans think is racist, according to a February poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, regularly points to gains in the job market as proof that he has been a good president for black and Latino Americans, groups that disproportionately voted against him in the 2016 election.
After hip-hop artist Kanye West reiterated his support for Trump and aligned himself with critics of black Democrats, the president went on Twitter to praise the rapper and pointed to historic low employment rates.
But what Trump and Bannon never acknowledge when talking about unemployment rates is that those gains in the job market can't be solely attributed to the current administration. They actually began before he entered office. The president and his supporters taking credit is not a conclusion backed by data.
The Washington Post's Philip Bump previously wrote that Trump's claims are “very misleading.”
“It’s not as if black unemployment was 18 percent under Barack Obama and, as soon as Trump took office, it plummeted. Black unemployment fell fairly consistently from 2010 on, as did the rates for whites and Hispanics.
From January to December 2017, the unemployment rate among black Americans fell 1 percentage point. During the same period in 2016, it fell the same amount. In 2015, it fell 1.9 points. The previous year, it fell 1.5 points. The year before that, it fell 1.8 points.”
Bannon's words displayed the same lack of awareness and sensitivity that hip-hop artist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter addressed when he mentioned that things other than financial prosperity matter to people of color.
“It's not about money at the end of the day. Money doesn't equate to happiness. It doesn't. That's missing the whole point,” Carter told CNN's Van Jones in January.
“You treat people like human beings. That's the main point,” he added. “It goes back to the whole thing — 'Treat me really bad and pay me well.' It's not going to lead to happiness, it's going to lead to, again, the same thing. Everyone's going to be sick.”
Bannon's comments come during the 50th anniversary of the Poor People's Campaign, an initiative King started half a century ago to draw more attention to how the civil rights of low-income Americans were constantly in jeopardy. The late pastor wanted people of color to have the same economic opportunities that white Americans enjoyed, but doing so would require combating racism in workplaces, policymaking and other spaces.
A current civil rights leader, the Rev. William Barber, attempted to pick up where King left off last week when he launched a month-long movement called the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which I provide more information about here.
King's daughter endorsed the movement after Bannon's comments.
Barber, a frequent Trump critic, sees the president's impact on the economic advancement of people of color quite differently than Bannon, but representative of a much larger problem in the Republican Party.
“We can’t just lay this reality of what we’re seeing at the feet of Trump,” the liberal minister said in January on “Democracy Now!” “Trump is a symptom of a deeper moral malady. And if he was gone tomorrow or impeached tomorrow, the senators and the House of Representatives and [Paul D. Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Lindsey O. Graham] and all them would still be there. And what we have found … when we look at them, no matter how crazy they call him or names they call him or anger they get with him, it’s all a front, because at the end of the day, they might disagree with his antics, but they support his agenda.”
Alluding to King is not uncommon for Bannon and others on the right. King's daughter and others on the left regularly call out conservatives for cherry-picking his message, saying that King's words have to be seen in their full context.