Donald Trump’s racist comments would be shocking if uttered by anyone, but when said by the president of the United States, they carry a special vile meaning for which there should be no place in our society.
But the week before our community celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was especially insulting as Trump made clear his policy desire is to deny entrance to the United States to as many black and brown people as possible in favor of whites. Apparently he likes Norway.
His misguided response to the violence in Charlottesville last year only emboldens those who would harm people of color, but his description of predominately black countries reeks of a person unfit to hold any office, let alone the highest in the land.
Trump signed a proclamation honoring King but seemed to miss the point and meaning of King’s contributions. The day should be spent doing civic or community good. Past presidents frequently spent the day with those in need or with young people planting trees and flowers, as did President Obama. Trump flew to Florida and played golf.
Here in Federal Way, we saw both the current generation of leaders and the future one at a celebration of Dr. King’s life that highlighted the talents of the cultural rainbow that is our community. It brought smiles of recognition to see what contributions, and an appreciation of a diversified community, can bring. As speakers pointed out, Dr. King isn’t a black hero, he is an American hero. One to be honored by all races for preaching ideals of equality, which is a cornerstone in the foundation of our country. But he should also be remembered for leading and speaking out when others chose to remain quiet, even at the cost of his life.
The event was a wonderful opportunity for reflection on past challenges and an acknowledgement we are facing them again. Beneath the surface was the gnawing and angering feeling that our president didn’t comprehend the meaning of the day nor the value our residents bring. Worse, he didn’t seem to care and might prefer they not be here. What a sad and incomplete place we would be without the different histories intertwined with each other in a common community goal that leads to better understanding.
Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell, educator Erin Jones and Federal Way City Councilman Jesse Johnson reminded us what the day was for and why it mattered. Each in their own way made a subtle but clear reference to the national embarrassment caused by Trump’s continued racist tone. However, local pride eventually overwhelmed those in the audience who felt any anger.
In keeping with Dr. King’s message, there was no call for reactive violence or even impeachment, although that idea is becoming more than just a passing thought to many.
Growing up in the Northwest, most of us were far removed from the civil rights movement, and the rampant discrimination in the South was hard to comprehend, even though it was here with us in its more subtle ways. Mayor Jim Ferrell provided a history lesson with quotes from King’s letter from the Birmingham jail. Many in attendance have reread those striking words recently. But the time, place and political dynamics in our country demanded more.
There was a call to action by each speaker, most forcefully by new council member Johnson who said, “You cannot simply stand on the sidelines. You must be willing to speak out.”
President Trump dishonored our community last year with his comments on Charlottesville, and City Hall was woefully quiet.
When we congregate for our diversity celebration later this year, the mayor and council should be more forceful in condemning Trump’s actions and behavior. A resolution opposing bigotry and a request to Congress to censure Trump is overdue, and silence is no longer an alternative.
Dr. King was never silent, and our leaders shouldn’t be either. President Trump’s views will never be acceptable here. And it is past time for our leaders to say so.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.