Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision for the United States that would make the country better for everybody; six decades later, it is painfully obvious that the ambition required to realize this dream has been sorely lacking in US politics since then.
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One of the most remarkable aspects of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech (which you can and should read here) is its ambition. King had a vision for the United States that would make the country better for everybody (well, probably not hard-core racists, but, you know, tough for them).
Looking at the field of the 2024 presidential candidates and, in all honesty, at just about every commander in chief who has served since King delivered his speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, 61 years ago, it is painfully obvious that this vision and ambition have been sorely lacking in US politics since then.
But they are urgently needed, because the problems that King talked about have only been addressed in parts (and even then usually inadequately) since then.
What has not changed is that the stench of racism continues to permeate the country. Today’s battles may not be about who is allowed to attend which school; now they are about which sanitized version of African American history should be taught to students so that they do not learn about the true extent of the atrocities committed by their forefathers.
However, nobody in politics is really talking about fixing this.
In fact, hardly anybody is talking about fixing any of the big problems that plague the nation.
Here is what it would sound like if some of today’s leaders were to deliver their “I Have a Dream” speech:
“I have a dream to make America great again… like in the 1950s before that uppity Dr. King gave his speech.” — Donald Trump
“I have a dream to get reelected mainly because voters dislike the guy I’m running against even more than me.” — President Joe Biden
“I have a dream to cap insulin costs at $35 per month.” — Congressional Democrats
“I have a dream to lower the tax rate of billionaires and corporations even more.” — Congressional Republicans
“I have a dream to keep brown people out of this country.” — All Republicans
“We have a dream to continue spending nearly $1 trillion annually on our military.” — Everybody
There is no true ambition in any of this… and in large part that’s because the United States is adrift and deeply divided.
It has been decades since Americans could unite behind a cause or a person. Now, their country is just kinda there… a superpower on the decline because it lacks purpose.
Even worse, there is no indication that things will get better. To the contrary. As demographic shifts continue, the large contingent of whites who see politics as a zero-sum game and are worried that the “others” will seek vengeance for decades of mistreatment and oppression will not give up “their” country willingly, which really explains the MAGA movement in one sentence.
Here is the thing, though: Politics (and life) isn’t a zero-sum game… or at least it doesn’t have to be. The America that King dreamed about would be a better place for everybody.
Sadly, in some ways, we are now farther away from it than in 1963.