“Jeff, I want to give you a chance to explain yourself, what you meant by your earlier comments,” Anderson Cooper began soberly.
“Sure,” Lord began from his Pennsylvania study, as his ever-present Ronald Reagan photo smiled and waved over his right shoulder.
“I wasn’t comparing President Trump and Dr. King,” Lord insisted, adding – you know it’s coming – “who, by the way, the latter, was a hero of mine when I was a kid.”
All day long, media had been howling over Lord’s having called former The Apprentice star-turned-POTUS “the Martin Luther King of health care.” Lord appeared on the cable news network’s New Day to discuss reports that Trump was threatening to cut Affordable Care Act subsidies to the poor as a means of getting Dems to the table on Obamacare repeal and replace.
“What I was doing was comparing their strategy. Dr. King quite specifically – and I knew this when I was talking about this on air this morning – was talking about creating a crisis,” Lord told Cooper this evening on CNN’s AC360.
He then began to read from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, “which I am well familiar with,” Lord said, reading a line from King’s 1963 defense of non-violent resistance to racism:
Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such attention, that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
“Donald Trump isn’t taking to the streets; he has the power of the presidency,” Lord acknowledged. “But clearly, if he withholds payments from insurance companies, which Wall Street Journal said would result in a meltdown, that’s a crisis,” Lord said. “So he is doing the same thing: creating a crisis to get to a negotiation. That’s the point. Period.”
Cooper’s other talking head, contributor Bakari Sellers, called Lord’s remark an affront to King’s legacy and emblematic of the culture of ignorance and anti-intellectualism ushered in by Donald Trump.
“What we saw him do was pervert” King’s writing, Sellers continued.
“Donald Trump is trying to bring Democrats to the table to gut a piece of legislation which has insured many and saved lives. If he is successful, people will die in rural hospitals like the one I used to represent will close,” warned Sellers, a former member of the South Carolina House.
Sellers noted his father marched with King and that “many people were beaten and many people were killed so that I could sit on this set today and the fact that someone can make this comparison…shows just how low our political discourse has sunken.”
Lord, in response, said his father lost his job and later a business “because he stood up for black Americans when we lived in the south in 1965.” He seemed to suggest Sellers was playing the race card, though he did not use those exact words. Sellers thought so, anyway:
“I am not using a race card,” Sellers shot back, saying, “I’m a black American citizen who stands on the shoulders of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
“In our political discourse we have to remove these Hitler and Nazi comparisons – and Donald Trump is not Martin Luther King Jr.,” Sellers said.
His remarks came one day after Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer suggested Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad was a worse butcher than Hitler, because Hitler had not used chemical weapons on his own people. Spicer, in his defense, apologized.
Sellers suggested, in so many words, he hoped Lord would do same, telling Lord, “I hope you are empathetic enough to see how disrespectful this is.”
Lord doubled down instead, accusing Bakari of “making something up out of whole cloth,” adding “by the way, I stood in line for six hours to pass Robert Kennedy’s casket and touch the flag when I was 17 years old.”
“I don’t know whether you’re old enough to have been there. I was there,” Lord said, acting like he’d won the “I was there” competition because, of course Sellers isn’t old enough.
“This crisis you’re talking about creating – it got four little girls blown up in a church. It got people assassinated, including Dr. King,” Sellers said, getting back to the subject.
“To put a button on how intellectually dishonest this is, and how you are perverting his legacy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. actually said that of all forms of inequality or injustice, inequality in health is the most shocking and inhumane.”
“Those were Democrats he was fighting against,” Lord said of King.