The 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Boston Monday was unlike all those that had come before. The reason? Donald Trump.
On a holiday that traditionally emphasizes unity, civil rights, and service, a procession of Massachusetts politicians, mostly Democrats, struggled to reconcile what they see as the jangling discord between King’s vision for the United States and Trump’s.
Senator Elizabeth Warren said the day celebrates the achievements of the civil rights movement and brings renewed pledges to fight until every child in the country has an opportunity to build a future and live King’s dream.
“This year,” the Democrat told a cheering crowd, “I am less focused on the celebration and more focused on the fight.”
With Trump’s inauguration just four days away, the morning’s speeches at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center were a call to action, at once mournful and determined. The audience, which included many prominent African-American leaders, cheered at liberal entreaties to ready for political battle.
Senator Edward J. Markey juxtaposed King’s dream with what he described as the president-elect’s dream.
Trump “has a dream that one day our nation will be surrounded by a wall built with bigotry and hate,” the Malden Democrat said. “He has a dream that one day our nation will judge you by virtue of your race, your creed, or your country of origin — and you will be placed in a national registry.”
Markey said Trump and his allies want to crush King’s dream.
“I believe that Dr. King would want us to fight,” Markey said.
Attorney General Maura Healey, also a Democrat, in a voice tinged with dismay, called on the diverse crowd to stand up and speak out. She offered a Declaration of Independence-like list of grievances she has with the incoming president.
“This person,” she said, “who has sowed dissension and division, who has sought to exploit — either directly or through benign indifference and neglect — the most base and harmful instincts to divide us along religious and racial lines; who, at every turn, doubled down on bias and prejudice; whose currency was that of fear, prejudice, and the marginalization of those already vulnerable; who cares so little for basic humanity that he would promote as his signature aspirations building walls and cutting millions of Americans off health care.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke about the “drastic and daunting change” in the country that Trump’s inauguration will bring. But, he said, in Boston, King’s spirit is alive and well, and the city will move forward with renewed urgency toward “healing, toward equity, toward justice.”
Even Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who broke with his party to oppose Trump, appeared to allude to the tension over the incoming president.
“We live in messy, loud, and difficult times. And the clash of policy and politics and rhetoric, that has always been with us, has been particularly edgy and, at times, disappointing,” Baker, who faces reelection in 2018, said in his characteristically understated way.
And Mel King, the Boston civil rights leader, former mayoral candidate, and one-time state legislator, put GOP attempts to repeal President Obama’s signature health care law in the starkest possible terms.
“The Affordable Care Act — I see any attempt to change or weaken it as a lynching,” King said after being saluted at the breakfast banquet, which included Walsh telling him the city is naming a street in his honor.
One recurring theme from elected officials was dismay at Trump’s attacks on Representative John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat and civil rights hero.
In an interview that aired on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Lewis said he doesn’t “see the president-elect as a legitimate president.”
Trump tweeted that the congressman, who marched with King during the 1960s civil rights movement and was bloodied at Selma, Ala., should spend more time fixing his district “rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”
Monday, the politicians praised Lewis, but grappled with what stance to take on his characterization of Trump’s election.
Speaking to reporters, Warren would not directly answer several questions about whether she, like Lewis, does not see Trump as a legitimate president.
“John Lewis has earned the right to raise questions about legitimacy,” Warren said. “Right now, our intelligence community tells us that Russia directly interfered in the election here in the United States.”
A reporter followed up by asking whether Warren agrees with Lewis that Trump is not a legitimate president.
“What I agree with is that John Lewis is a man who has earned the right to have his view of Donald Trump’s presidency and legitimacy,” she replied.
“And do you agree with that?” the reporter pressed.
“What I believe is that right now,” Warren said, “the intelligence community has raised significant questions about Russian interference in our electoral process. And that these questions must be tracked down, and that we both must determine exactly what Russia did, and take appropriate steps.”
“But if he’s not legitimate, who is running our country?” the reporter tried once again.
Warren, who is going to the inauguration, responded by stating the simple fact that hung over all the breakfast festivities: Trump will be sworn in Friday as president.