Trump, meet Martin Luther King Jr.
Newsflash: I didn’t want Donald J. Trump to be president. If it had to be a Republican, I would have preferred John Kasich. If a Democrat, Hillary Clinton. And if it just had to be an obnoxious New Yorker, I’d have picked Ronnie the Limo Driver.
But I got Trump. And here’s what I wish for him: that he becomes the most successful bipartisan president in history. So far, every indication is I’m deluded. But he does have an opportunity, starting this Monday, to convince me anew: with a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
No, not a speech about race or civil rights. Those things would ring hollow coming from a man who tapped Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general.
I mean a Martin Luther King Day speech about jobs.
Few people realize that the official name of the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
For King, jobs were not the dream. They were the way to make dreams come true.
“We call our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting,” King wrote in a 1968 Look magazine essay, published after his assassination.
Had he lived, is there any doubt King would be back on the National Mall, calling for a massive infrastructure program, job retraining and vocational education as a way to bring the American dream to the sons and daughters of all people, Black, white, brown, Christian, Muslim and Jewish?
King, whose birthday we celebrate on the third Monday of January each year, is no longer with us.
But Trump is.
And he can use the opportunity of that day to focus the country’s full attention on fulfilling the main promise he made to voters during his campaign: that he will bring them the dignity and security of work. Using the words and image of Dr. King as his inspiration and support, he can present a vast, ambitious plan to invest in America and American workers — not to punish China or Mexico, but to reward their faith in him.
Republicans and many Democrats criticized President Barack Obama for spending his first 100 days in office focused on a polarizing battle over health care. Not that the Republicans, under any circumstances, would have joined forces with Obama on any major initiative, but they had a point. Now, how foolish if Trump makes the same mistake as Obama.
Trump needs to set the agenda and put his energy and focus into jobs. The Republican leaders will oppose this, but they loathed him from the start and only now believe they can use him to realize their ideologically driven agenda that would defund Planned Parenthood, crash the deficit and deprive millions of health care. Trump doesn’t owe them anything.
His deepest debt is to the crossover voters in the Midwest states who got him elected: working-class white, Black and Latino men and women who believed him when he said he could help them get good-paying jobs, make their neighborhoods safer and cut better deals abroad. If he does right by them, their still-Democratic friends will step up in 2020 and Trump will coast to re-election.
The key is jobs.
Who pays? Some of the money can come from government borrowing at low interest rates. Some will come from tax breaks to corporations that engage in job training and remunerative infrastructure projects. The money we spend will come back in income taxes, lower social safety net costs, lower crime. Talk about the art of the deal.
“Perhaps no single policy could have as great a social and economic impact on the African American community — and the entire country — as federally funded job assurance for every person ready and willing to work,” Mathew Forstater, of the University of Missouri, wrote in an essay about King and jobs. “This is a policy approach that was explicitly supported by Dr. King.”
How brilliant if Trump merges the memory of Dr. King with a bold approach to achieving what he promised from the start?
I know, I know. The thing to do now is to man the barricades and fight against every word from Trump’s mouth, every nominee he puts before the Senate, every inflammatory sentence from the Twitterer-elect.
Trump is unpredictable, but most predictably, he wants to win. Destroying the Affordable Care Act, setting off World War III over an embassy move, defunding Planned Parenthood — these will win him support he already has, divide the country even more deeply and more than likely fail as policy. The winning move is jobs.
Dr. King outlined his plans for a national work and jobs training program in a 1967 book titled “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” That’s a question the new president should be asking himself, and one that he now has the awesome power to answer.