Recently, packages containing pipe bombs were sent to former President Barack Obama, former President and first lady Bill and Hillary Clinton, and other prominent members of the Democratic Party. None of the bombs exploded, all government personnel performed their duties well, and no one was hurt.
But President Donald Trump didn’t immediately call the individuals targeted to give reassurance as President, comfort as Commander-in-Chief, or concern as a human being. Most believe this presidential shun was a calculated political move; each targeted individual was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration.
Here history could have guided the president.
In October 1960, two weeks before the presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee asked Martin Luther King Jr. to join one of their sit-ins to desegregate a restaurant. King didn’t want to participate. King told the impatient student leaders of SNCC to wait until after the election. The SNCC leaders insisted and King went along.
But this was a calculated political move by SNCC.
SNCC wanted King to go to jail with them to draw attention to SNCC and their desegregation campaign. SNCC calculated if King was arrested with them it would force the presidential candidates to address civil rights.
They got arrested as planned, but SNCC didn’t plan for deputies to snatch King in the middle of the night and escort him to a maximum-security prison. The author, Steve Levingston, wrote the danger was if King were put to hard labor, as the judge had ordered, King would work side-by-side with ruthless White criminals who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by murdering a Black celebrity.
Meanwhile, King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, was pregnant with the couple’s third child, and knew nothing of her husband’s circumstances.
After King’s imprisonment made national news, civil rights organizations petitioned the presidential candidates to speak out against the jailing of King.
Levingston wrote, the Nixon camp calculated the political consequences and concluded the best course of action was silence. Baseball hero and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson met with Nixon and urged Nixon to do something. Robinson came out of his 10-minute meeting with Nixon crying. Robinson complained that Nixon thought that speaking on behalf of King would be “grandstanding.” Robinson was distraught and said, “Nixon doesn’t deserve to win.”
The Kennedy camp needed to prove their candidate had a commitment to civil rights, but it was a poor political calculation to anger southern Whites that close to the presidential election.
Kennedy’s camp decided their candidate should do something personal not political. Kennedy was told Blacks don’t expect everything will change tomorrow, no matter who’s elected. But they do want to know whether you care. If you telephone Mrs. King you will reach their hearts and give support to a pregnant woman who is afraid her husband will be killed.
Kennedy called Coretta Scott King, and it became known as the phone call that changed history. Then Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon for the presidency.
Now, imagine if President Trump made one phone call to Michelle Obama and asked about her daughters. But President Trump made Nixon’s political miscalculation a few weeks before another historic election.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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