Speaking to thousands at Liberty University on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump dedicated breaking the attendance record for the school’s convocations to Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was the only reference Trump made to the historic civil rights leader, who is celebrated on the third Monday of January every year. Instead of honoring King’s legacy, Trump gave what has become his usual stump speech — self-congratulations on leading the polls, followed by a lot of positions that King would have certainly disagreed with.
A Bigger Military
Trump again on Monday called for more military spending and expanding our military capabilities, despite the fact that the United States has the biggest military in the world and spends the most money on it, by far. Trump vowed he would expand the U.S. armed forces to be “so strong and vigilant that nobody messes with us.”
Dr. King, at the time of the Vietnam War, was sharply critical of America’s military build up and interventionist tendencies. In his 1967 Riverside speech, he called the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
He also blamed the war for America’s lack of investment in fighting poverty at home. “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
The United States spends $9 on the military for every dollar it spends on education, Social Security, unemployment, and labor combined.
Civil Rights for Christians
The speech was — perhaps unsurprisingly for the man who has called for banning Muslims and building a giant wall to keep Mexicans out — almost entirely without reference to civil rights. The only group Trump targeted for protection was Christians. Since before Christmas, Trump has been going back to the War on Christmas trope, and he revisited it for this late January speech.
“If I’m president, you’re going to see Merry Christmas in department stores,” Trump told the cheering evangelical crowd. “We’re going to protect Christianity.”
King himself was a preacher who championed the teachings of Christianity, but he used those teachings as a way to advance civil rights for everyone — particularly American blacks during the Jim Crow era.
King was — in case you hadn’t heard — staunchly anti-violence. In fact, even after multiple death threats and his house being fire-bombed, King would only let himself be protected by unarmed bodyguards.
Trump told the crowd that fewer people would have died in the Paris attacks if French people had more guns. (This was not the first time he has said that). Unfortunately, the facts aren’t with him on this one. Not only were most of the French victims killed by suicide bombs — which do not respond to shooting — but also the “good guy with a gun” myth falsely assumes that in a mass shooting, an armed good Samaritan would be able to determine who the assailant was. While Trump’s simplistic argument of “Common Core bad… Second Amendment good,” suggested an opposition to laws to reduce gun violence, statistics show that U.S. states with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun deaths, including homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths.
Liberty University has long-standing ties to Trump, who spoke there in 2012. At the time, university president Jerry Falwell, Jr, called Trump, “one of the greatest visionaries of our time.” On Monday, Falwell said he sees “a lot of parallels” between Trump and his father, the late televangelist Jerry Falwell, Sr.
Liberty University was founded by the elder Falwell, who opposed efforts to divest from South African over apartheid and denounced Nobel Peace Prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a “phony.”