Madness prevails 50 years after King
Gary Caruso | Friday, April 6, 2018
In an era of instant connectivity, we seem not to seek answers. In an age of plenty, we cherish greed. In a time when our nation is rapidly changing most of its demographics, we seek a return to an earlier time remembered as great. Without a time machine that could return us to a life with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the commemoration events this week marking the 50th anniversary of his assassination served as the next best inspirational message for our American civilization.
On Wednesday, Americans were treated to a video bombardment of King delivering eloquent, timeless and profound speeches that moved so many in the 1960s. One can easily see why our nation celebrates a holiday on his birthday that equals the honors bestowed upon the likes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Ironically, the ongoing officer-related shootings of unarmed African-Americans and the recent massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sparked citizen class movements similar to the one King’s death ignited five decades ago. King himself, who said, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better,” best describes such cyclical and historical public determination.
For all of the societal changes that have occurred throughout the last half-century, madness still prevails in our electronic, instantaneous communication era. Much of our chaos is the result of foreign trolling on social media. Much more of our hardening political divide is our trolling for news that agrees with our understanding of the issues. King recognized a breakdown of the individual’s willingness to learn when he noted, “The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.”
Our recent ongoing erosion of civility towards each other — most dramatically evident between family members over the Clinton-Trump election — is a pervasive political phenomenon unseen in modern presidential cycles. During King’s days, the Vietnam War divided parents from their children in 1968, but not with such vitriol as in the 2016 election. In King’s time, his causes of equality and justice most often addressed strangers whom he did not know. His words about familiarity ring especially true in American households that still harbor animosity over the Trump election. King said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
In 2018, what direction our nation marches is in many ways a do-over of 1968. But today, the Vietnam War has become terrorism, while race relations regress a step with the rise of an alt-right resurgence. While the adage of taking two steps forward and one step back describes slow progress, today’s one step back seems like the loss of a 1968 gain that should have been permanent. The “Resist,” “March for Our Lives” and “Never Again” protesters have embraced a proactive stance King once described, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Imagine standing in King’s shoes with the bittersweet knowledge that his journey is short, but that he must persevere through his commitment for equality. He oftentimes referenced that he would not live a long life, having faced violence at every turn of his campaign through physical assault and bombings. His remarks about seeing the Promised Land after climbing the mountaintop should be joined with his call to action when he urged, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Who are the modern-version Kings of today? Perhaps Pope Francis who calls for greater service to others without judgments and rigid restrictions. Have we any modern-day political leaders with greater calls for equality and justice without fear of change? Certainly American politics today is not the 1960’s call of the Kennedys who asked us to serve our country rather than take from it. In King’s mind, our nation needed, and still needs, hard-minded leaders when he said, “A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”
Fortunately, young citizens have inspired action. Perhaps many of them are the future leaders who will one day arouse, enthuse and encourage new movements in the ways that King inspired others — not for mundane goals like deregulation to promote prosperity of the pocketbook, but for basic brotherhood goals that lift everyone in a way so as not to push down others. King urged such bold and persistent feats by saying, “When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.”
It may take another 50 years to be “free at last” from the hatred, fear and inhospitable attitudes of our neighbors. Yet King knew the way when he said, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.