Thoughts on MLK Jr. Day, 2018

So there I am, sitting in Jim’s Tire Center on LA Avenue. It’s Martin Luther King Day, and it’s a chance to reflect on the “I Have a Dream” speech and on the message behind Letter From a Birmingham Jail, to see the Gandhian ideals of nonviolence and social justice take shape in a way most Americans might recognize. I’m sitting there with a book of Joan Didion essays in my lap, waiting for the man behind the counter to call my name. He’ll tell me that my tires are all replaced, that my suspension’s been fixed, and that, yes, it’s all the same price he quoted to me last Thursday.

But, for the last two hours, I got to sit and try to read. I say “try,” because, against my will, I get to listen to two straight hours of Fox News talking heads.

I hear them discuss Democrats holding up negotiations for DACA and military spending. I hear them praise Trump’s work on the economy and North Korea, and how he’s bringing all those jobs back. I hear commercials for investing in gold and silver, for VA-backed home loans now that buying a home’s never been easier, for heart medication and children’s hospitals and home surveillance systems. I hear the snide tone in which Democratic proposals are dismissed, in which Obama’s lack of activity on jobs and security is held up against Trump’s sterling record. I hear pride in hard work and scorn for state governors who make billions in tax revenue off legalized marijuana (because how dare they make money off drugs?).

In all of this, I hear two things: money and security. And that’s really the same thing, isn’t it?

I hear, Hey, you worked hard for your money! Here’s how you make more!

I hear, Look at these soldiers in front of the flag! Don’t you want to do your part for them?

I hear, Democrats said Trump hasn’t fixed anything! Why didn’t they fix anything either?

When I used to be an MSNBC viewer, I saw similar lines in their programming. I’d hear Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann go after Republicans for their crude profit motives and bullying of women and minorities. I saw Democratic legislation for healthcare and immigration reform stifled by angry Republicans and Tea Party misfits, who were all really in the Koch Brothers’ pocket, you know.

And that’s the interesting thing, when you think about it. Money is a big deal to both parties, and most of it comes from a strong donor class. The same goes for these 24-hour cable news shows. When I see their commercials, I see who’s bankrolling the network. I see which demographics they’re trying to target, because Lord knows older Americans have health issues and retirement concerns, and if we can scare them in the primetime, we’ll get their money that they’re so afraid to lose on our new line of products and services!

Republicans are mean. Democrats are hypocrites. Republicans only care about rich white people. Democrats want to send all our money to lazy immigrants and coastal elites. Republicans want to keep the underclass permanent. Democrats want to destroy entrepreneurs in this country.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Meanwhile, as I drive home on a set of brand new tires, with fine-tuned suspension, I feel a sense of freedom. Not because I earned my car or those tires, but because I put money back into my local economy. I feel grateful for the hard work that the folks at Jim’s Tire Center do, and I pray for middle-class and working-class folks to get a break with their finances and employment, so that businesses won’t bury them in fees or keep them locked in a cycle of debt. I feel free, even while I see myself in the larger scheme of a community that works, eats, sleeps, prays, and dreams together.


By the way, if you have some time today, please sit down and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail in full. It’s relevant to anyone who cares about the long moral arc of our universe.

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