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President, known proponent of racist birther conspiracy, ‘honors’ MLK Day

A whirlwind visit to MLK's memorial doesn't cover up years of outright racism.

US President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence (L) and acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC on January 21, 2019 on Martin Luther King Day. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence (L) and acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC on January 21, 2019 on Martin Luther King Day. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump — who built his political career on the false claim that the nation’s first African-American president was born in Kenya and launched his presidential campaign by smearing immigrants — marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a two-minute visit to the civil-rights icon’s memorial.

Trump on Monday was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and David Bernhardt, acting secretary of the Interior, as he laid a wreath at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The entire trip, including the motorcade, took about fifteen minutes.

The unscheduled visit came after a tweet earlier that day, in which Trump wrote, “Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.”

Reacting to Trump’s tweet, Gary Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ThinkProgress: “Trump often tries to spin reality, but his tweet suggesting he affirms the ideals of Martin Luther King is truly incredible.

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“He was elected in a racist campaign,” Orfield said, “and his administration has attacked civil rights in appointments, in regulation changes, in attacking affirmative action, in creating unspeakable conditions for refugee families, and turning the Supreme Court to the hard right.

Orfield said Trump’s statements and policies “have unleashed the demons of racial hate and encouraged white nationalists.”

“I was in the original March on Washington,” he said. “Those who believe in Dr. King’s vision of the ‘beloved community’ should be marching now because this administration is the most hostile we’ve experienced in a century.”

After years of advocating for his racist “birther” conspiracy, Trump announced his presidential candidacy in 2015 by declaring that Mexico was not “sending its best” to immigrate to the U.S.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said at the time. “Some, I assume, are good people.”

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Throughout both his campaign and his presidency, Trump has repeatedly doubled down on racist and anti-immigrant statements.

He repeatedly berated U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who presided over two lawsuits into the failed Trump University, and claimed he was biased due to his ethnicity. “I think it has to do with, perhaps, the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border — very, very strong on the border,” Trump told Fox News in February 2017. “He has been extremely hostile to me. Now, he is Hispanic, I believe.”

During his campaign, Trump marketed himself to African-American voters by asking, “What do you have to lose?” As president, he declared that there were some “very fine people” among the white nationalist protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and referred to Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations as “shithole countries.”

In his defense of the border wall — a key campaign promise — Trump has repeatedly derided immigrants. Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, he released an ad claiming that convicted cop-killer Luis Bracamontes had illegally entered the country under the Democrats’ watch, when in reality he had entered in 2002 when George W. Bush was president.

His repeated focus on how “illegal immigrants” are committing more crimes is also false. The libertarian Cato Institute has found that immigrants commit crime at a disproportionately lower rate than naturalized citizens.

Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown — now the longest in U.S. history — has disproportionately impacted African Americans. As the Guardian noted, African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 18 percent of the federal workforce. The shutdown is also centered around a border wall, which, as ThinkProgress has previously noted, would do little to combat smuggling and only serve as red meat to Trump’s base.

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“Donald Trump’s actions are shattering the ‘beloved community’ that Dr. King dreamed for our nation. If Trump and his administration truly wanted to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., they would stop their ongoing assault on our civil and human rights,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told ThinkProgress.

The irony, however, of presiding over all of this while simultaneously attempting to honor King was apparently lost on both Trump and Pence. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pence went so far as to liken Trump to King.

“[This] weekend we are remembering the life and the work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.,” Pence said. “He inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union…that’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do, come to the table in a spirit of good faith.”

The NAACP labeled the interview “an insult to Dr. King’s legacy.”

King’s son, Martin Luther King III, hit back.

“The vice president attempted to compare the president to Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder,” his son said. “Martin Luther King, Jr. would say, ‘Love, not hate, will make America great.'”