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Watching Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan address the anniversary of his Million Man March in Washington, I found myself thinking of Donald Trump.
I know I'm going to hear heated opposition from some folks for even mentioning the two newsmakers in the same sentence. But fame is a funny thing. The ferocious loyalty of their supporters is one of the distinctive qualities that both men share in common.
Both men have made an art form of turning controversy into gold. Each has stirred up a grievance-based movement with an ambitious agenda for political and social change that, more than anything else, promotes the brands of their leaders.
They do this partly by defying "political correctness," as some people like to call what most of us like to call good manners. The blandest of reputations can be quickly spiced up by the knowledge that any moment now you just might test public sensibilities by saying something outrageous.
Just when I thought Minister Farrakhan, for example, had given up his reputation for baiting Jews and Israel with thinly veiled anti-Semitic statements, he went full anti-Semitic birther earlier this year.
In a Savior's Day speech live-streamed on the Internet, Farrakhan blamed the Sept. 11 attacks not on Arabs or Muslims but on Jews and Israelis. "It is now becoming apparent that there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attacks," he said, as the audience voiced its approval. If it wasn't a hate rally, it was a stunningly close imitation.
The video led Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman to name the Nation of Islam minister America's "leading anti-Semite" and "pied piper of bigotry."
Indeed, Trump sounds tame by comparison with his infamous claim that Mexico is "sending" immigrants who are "bringing drugs ... bringing crime," are "rapists and some, I assume, are good people."
When I interviewed Farrakhan back in the 1980s, he assured me that he believes some Jews are good people, too. But that doesn't forgive either his or Trump's spreading of paranoid conspiratorial delusions.
The New York Times also reported in 1995 that his condemnations of gay lifestyles had caused some consternation among black gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals over whether to attend the first Million Man March on the Washington Mall.
But rest assured, Farrakhan scrupulously avoided taking the cheap-shot route in his Million Man March speeches, whether at other Jews or the gay and lesbian communities. Instead he gave rambling two-hour sermons that he delivered in the way Trump enjoys: off-the-cuff adlibs that occasionally return to a central theme.
Not that it matters. The crowds at both men's events are excited to be there. Their presence is in itself a statement that they want to send the world about their frustration with the status quo.
In politics, after all, this is the year of the populist. Insurgent, outside-the-mainstream presidential candidates in both parties are experiencing surprising success in polls. Voters are tired of Washington's "business as usual," however they define that business to be.
As the nation's first nonwhite president nears the end of his term, African-Americans are expressing their frustration over the limits of his power, even as his conservative opposition claims that he has had too much power.
Small wonder then that thousands of black folks returned to the mall, perhaps to find new answers or merely to get their spiritual batteries charged.
The recent rally essentially was a big nostalgic celebration of the first. It's oddly ominous theme "Justice -- or Else," echoed the frustrations of the Black Lives Matter movement, but left open the question, "Or else what?"
Farrakhan's spokespersons suggested maybe a national black boycott of the Christmas holiday season. Good luck with that, folks.
Left unanswered is the larger question raised by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago amid the hard-won victories of the civil rights revolution: "Where do we go from here?
He answered himself, saying we should continue to fight poverty, inequality and injustice with a "divine dissatisfaction." We've got lots of dissatisfaction now. The divine part may take a little longer.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpagetribune.com.