Can We Stop Pretending We Know How Dead People Would Have Felt About Modern Politics?


It’s Martin Luther King Day, and that means that many of the efforts to reflect on King’s accomplishments and legacy will be obscured by modern opportunists telling us what that great man would have said and thought today.

From the left we’re told that King tried to warn us about Donald Trump.

From the right we’re told that King would have maybe been a Republican today (that seems deeply unlikely).

This is all an exercise in stupidity. None of us alive today know how King would feel about America and the world in 2018. We don’t know how the decades of history between his death and today would have changed him (if it changed him at all).

These articles, an annoying tradition on this day, are more about the agendas of those writing them than King himself. A way to shoehorn his legacy into the hot takes of the moment.

King deserves better. Though he’s hardly the only historical figure who gets this treatment.

“Dear President Trump: Churchill would have been a climate leader,” a CNN opinion writer assures us.

Some of Ronald Reagan’s children have made a fine career, since his death, of telling us what the Republican icon would have thought.

It’s all bunk. It’s all nonsense.

Worse, it diminishes the memory of what these leaders actually said and did.

We should study these leaders. We should remember their accomplishments. We should even draw lessons from their lives and apply them to modern situations. But we should stop pretending as though we know what they would have said or done if confronted with the situations we face today.

Because I don’t know, and neither do you.