Why MLK's legacy matters more in a post-Obama America

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Will U.S. race relations improve under President-elect Donald Trump? Americans aren't so hopeful, according to a recent Pew Research poll. Nearly half of U.S. voters expect race relations to worsen under the Trump administration — a sharp increase over the 9% of voters who expected them to worsen under President Barack Obama.

Pessimism about the future of race relations is especially notable among black voters, the poll found. Seventy-five percent of black voters expect race relations to aggravate after Trump's election — a complete reversal from 2008, when 75% believed Obama's election would improve race relations. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches — just days before the inauguration of Trump — the civil rights leader's teachings are as relevant as ever before. Here is why his legacy is so important in a post-Obama America:

Family planning 

Martin Luther King Jr. delivering a speech in Paris, FranceSource: AFP/Getty Images
Martin Luther King Jr. delivering a speech in Paris, France  AFP/Getty Images

On Jan. 5, Speaker Paul Ryan said he would defund Planned Parenthood as part of a bill to repeal Obamacare, The Hill reported. Eliminating federal money for Planned Parenthood has been a goal for anti-abortion groups, despite the fact that federal law prohibits Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer money to fund abortions, according to Politico

King highlighted the importance of organizations like Planned Parenthood in family planning when he received the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Margaret Sanger Award in 1966:

"In our struggle for equality we were confronted with the reality that many millions of people were essentially ignorant of our conditions or refused to face unpleasant truths. The hard-core bigot was merely one of our adversaries. The millions who were blind to our plight had to be compelled to face the social evil their indifference permitted to flourish."

Police brutality

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.  Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Trump claimed to be the "law and order" candidate throughout his campaign. Speaking about police brutality on Meet the Press, Trump acknowledged "some horrible mistakes are made" — but then highlighted the need to "give power back to the police." A New York Times article published Nov. 11 called Trump's election victory a "counterprotest against Black Lives Matter."

In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, King spoke against the use of excessive force against African-Americans:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.  

Voter suppression   

In December 2016, during his "Thank You" rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Trump thanked "smart" African-American voters for not coming out to vote on Election Day. The lower turnout among African-American voters can be somewhat attributed to the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to gut a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, resulting in 14 states to adopt restrictive voting laws.   

King, in his "I Have a Dream" speech, encouraged Americans to fight against voter suppression:

We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.