At a breakfast celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., top Massachusetts politicians Monday pilloried President Trump, calling him a racist and a bully. They said his words and actions tarnish the magnanimous values that have animated generations of Americans. And they pledged battle against the New York billionaire.
The anti-Trump jeremiads came amid a roiling national debate over the president’s feelings about people of color. And they were delivered days after he reportedly questioned why the United States is accepting immigrants from “shithole countries,” including Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, rather than from places like Norway.
“We face the challenge of an openly racist president of the United States,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren to applause at the convention center in South Boston. “Donald Trump is a racist bully and we know how to deal with bullies. We do not back down. We do not shut up. We fight back.”
Senator Edward J. Markey, in a speech that brought the crowd of hundreds of their feet, said he’s not embarrassed by the hard work, ambition, and vision of immigrants that come to the United States seeking a better life and bringing unique knowledge, culture, and skills.
“I am embarrassed by Donald Trump’s racist attitudes and comments,” the Malden Democrat said. “So what would Dr. King expect us to do in the face of this disregard for basic decency? I believe that Dr. King would want us to fight.”
Asked on Sunday how he answers people who say he’s a racist, the president responded: “No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.” (On Monday, Trump spent hours at the Trump International Golf Course in Florida.)
At the Boston breakfast, Governor Charlie Baker also took aim at Trump, without mentioning his name. Echoing King’s imperative to speak out against injustice, Baker recalled a quote from the civil rights leader: There comes a time “when silence is betrayal.”
The governor, a Swampscott Republican running for reelection this year, spoke about his late mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, and her final years in a nursing home.
During that time, he said, the majority of people who took care of his mom were from Africa and Haiti. He hailed those men and women as kind, thoughtful, and positive and said they lifted his family at a time of immense pain.
“To those who would demean, insult, or bring down others simply because they are different, I have a very simple message for them,” Baker said. “This country is great because of its diversity, not in spite of it.”
Attorney General Maura T. Healey called on the audience to take the long view toward justice, “rather than the short view toward the next tweet or news cycle.”
Healey, a Democrat, said some people may feel threatened and challenged by forces that are “corrosive, corrupting, and coarsening.” But the state’s top law enforcement official quoted from the Book of Isaiah.
“ ‘They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint,’ ” she said. “Let us, brothers and sisters, not be faint, for now is the time.”
Other politicians spoke about issues closer to home. State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, cheered forward movement of a wide-ranging criminal justice bill on Beacon Hill. But the animating theme of the Boston event, the 48th annual breakfast commemoration of King in the city where he earned his PhD , was implicitly and explicity about the fight against Trump.
State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, a Boston Democrat, said the national discourse reminds us “that with every tweet, we have to continue to rally all the love we have and all the friends we know — all the time.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh told the crowd King’s legacy is stronger than ever, “and his words and values are needed now more than ever.”
And Warren, the Cambridge Democrat seen as a potential candidate for president in 2020, hammered home the need to fight back most of all, referring to Trump’s alleged remarks on immigration and his response to the violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., last summer.
“When a racist bully talks about people who march with white supremacists and Nazis as ‘very fine people,’ ” Warren said, “when he refers to ‘shithole’ countries in Africa, and when he uses that hateful rhetoric to push discrimination in America, you better believe: we will fight back!”
Her rhetorical thrusts brought a quick response from two of her US Senate opponents, Republicans Geoff Diehl, a state representative, and John Kingston, a businessman. Diehl dinged what he framed as Warren’s “divisive remarks, including her use of an expletive intended for shock value.” And Kingston said the senator’s “toxic message of division could not be more out of step with the legacy of Dr. King.”
Warren, however, sought to reflect King’s vision and tap into churning dismay with the president’s words and policies.
“These fights are tough. But you don’t get what you don’t fight for,” Warren said. “Know this: We will resist, we will persist, and we will overcome.”