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Mon Jan 21, 2019, 04:37 PM

Finding A Way In Trump's America Through MLK's 'Drum Major Instinct'

The following Lyndon Johnson quote is often noted as an explanation of how Trump uses the racism of his white supporters as means of oppressing them. Lyndon Johnson, of course, was a white southerner who nonetheless signed the Civil Rights Act.

However, there is also Lyndon Johnson's contemporary, Martin Luther King, who addressed this same phenomena from the perspective of a black man.

The perspectives of both Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King are particularly important during the Trump presidency. We cannot simply deny racial inequality or argue as some progressives have that racism is simply the result of economic hardship. We cannot assume that by eliminating economic inequality, racism will go away. To the contrary, racism itself is used to perpetuate economic inequality. By scapegoating immigrants, racial and religious minorities, and women in the workforce, Trump can get the white working class to sign off on tax cuts to the rich on cuts in salaries to federal workers, to cuts in health care all in exchange for feeling superior and entitled.


Dr. King went on to talk about the character trait that would prompt James and John to ask that question of Jesus in the first place. He calls it The Drum Major Instinct, and says its that innate desire that we all have to lead the parade or be first. Philosophers say its the most dominant human impulse. When the instinct goes unharnessed we will put others down so we can be on top.

Dr. King tells a story of being locked up in a Birmingham jail, talking to police officers about race, when the subject of money came up. When the officers revealed how much they were earning Dr. King laughed:

You ought to be marching with us. Youre just as poor as Negroes. You have been put in the position of supporting your oppressors, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people too. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big, when you are so poor you can hardly send your children to school.

Little has changed. Poor whites think its the black and brown population taking away jobs and security when its really the one percent. Dr. King also warns of what could happen if China, the U.S. and Russia had a standoff. Wed all go within seconds. Even less has changed. Dr. King goes back to Jesus, James and John.

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