Dana Milbank: The uncanny similarities between Martin Luther King and Donald Trump

President Donald Trump, center, Vice President Mike Pence, left, escorted by Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, right, visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Washington • Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a moment when we pause to recall the contribution the great civil rights leader made toward the universal cause of building a wall along the border with Mexico.

Vice President Mike Pence, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, drew an indelible line between President Donald Trump and King. “One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,’” Pence said. King, he continued, “inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on Congress to do.”

It had not previously been obvious that Trump, in shutting down the government until Democrats agree to hundreds of miles of border wall, was fulfilling King’s dream, nor that King had been such a strong influence on a man who challenged the birth certificate of the first black president, hesitated to disavow David Duke, protested the removal of “beautiful” Confederate monuments, often retweeted white supremacists and approved of the “very fine people” marching among neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.

But Pence is a man of nuanced thinking. For example, he has determined that it is “deeply offensive” for the media to report on his wife taking a teaching job with a Christian school that attempts to exclude gay and lesbian students and teachers because of their “moral misconduct,” but he vigorously defends a man who paid hush money to a porn star alleging an affair.

Using the same subtlety of mind employed by the vice president, we, too, discover the many uncanny similarities between Trump and King:

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI investigated King. James B. Comey’s FBI investigated Trump.

The National Security Agency eavesdropped on King. Trump said he had his phones tapped by President Barack Obama.

King wrote the famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Many of Trump’s former advisers are facing jail time.

King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial. Trump boasts that he is more popular among Republicans than Lincoln (“I beat our Honest Abe”).

King was stabbed, stoned, firebombed and shot. Trump believes “no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly” than he.

King fought against the Vietnam War. Trump avoided the Vietnam War with bone spurs, then said avoiding venereal disease was his “personal Vietnam.”

King dreamed that “the crooked places shall be made straight.” Trump warned about Crooked Hillary.

King wanted his kids not to “be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Trump, in a similar vein, proclaimed that his daughter has “got the best body” and is “very voluptuous.”

King was the greatest orator of his era. Trump says: “I have the best words.”

King was the foremost civil rights figure of his age. Trump has learned that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

King was president of his class in divinity school. Trump says that “nobody reads the Bible more than me.”

King was Time’s Man of the Year. Trump’s golf resorts displayed fake Time covers with Trump’s face on them until he won the distinction legitimately.

King imagined “little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” Trump declared: “Look at my African-American over here.”

King observed that “nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Trump, of similar belief, declared that he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

Admittedly, Trump differs with King on some minor, technical points. King was defined by civil disobedience. Trump thinks “it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters.” King believed passionately in nonviolence. Trump promised to pay the legal fees of people who “knock the crap out of” protesters at his events.

But the Pencean Dialectic shows us far more that unites them.

King worried about the lack of opportunity for African-Americans. So does Trump! He said: “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?”

And nothing fulfills King’s dream like miles and miles of concrete (or steel!) barrier keeping out poor, dark-skinned people.

King said: “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” Trump says: “We must build the wall!”

King said “hate is too great a burden to bear.” Trump feels the same — which is why he says he is building the wall out of “love.”

Dana Milbank | The Washington Post

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. He sketches the foolish, the fallacious and the felonious in politics.