The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters during the 1963 March on Washington.

MLK had a dream. Trump had a mob. How two days in January offer competing visions for America

Updated 3:00 AM ET, Sat January 15, 2022

(CNN)The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been called a socialist, a Republican, an "angry Black man" and a "teddy bear."

It's an annual ritual on the birthday of the iconic civil rights leader: Pundits offer provocative interpretations of King to make him relevant for a contemporary audience.
But these commentators won't have to work as hard this year to explain why King matters. Anyone who wants to remind Americans about the urgency of King's message can now cite January 6, 2021.
That's when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol and tried to block Congress' certification of the 2020 presidential election because they wrongly believed Trump had won.
January 6 and January 15: These dueling dates are just nine days apart, yet they offer two radically different visions of what the US stands for.
For part of America, January 6 is a "1776 moment," a great patriotic uprising. Another part of the country celebrates King's January 15 birthday and his dream of a Beloved Community -- a "world in which people of all identities are equal and included."
The two dates present the country with a choice:
Are we going to be a nation of We, the People, or We, the White people?
The question may seem abstract, but if you look closer at what both men did with their defining moments in Washington, the differences are clear.
Consider the contrasts between King's "I Have a Dream Speech" on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial and Trump's January 6 "Stop the Steal" rally at the Ellipse.
King drew a peaceful, interracial crowd to Washington and talked about a dream that united "all of God's children -- Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants..."
President Donald Trump speaks during a January 6, 2021, rally in Washington  protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as President.
Trump drew an overwhelmingly White crowd that included members of White supremacist groups, a man wearing a "Camp Auschwitz" T-shirt and people who erected a lynching noose on the Capitol grounds.
King's "I Have a Dream" speech helped spark the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which helped make the US a genuine democracy for the first time.
Trump's speech directly preceded an attack on Congress that killed five people and injured many others and prompted a wave of voter suppression laws that have weakened American democracy.
King drew a cross-section of religious leaders, activists and celebrities like singer Joan Baez, future congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston.
Trump drew "QAnon Shaman" Jacob Chansley, a man who paraded a Confederate Flag through the Capitol and others who smeared poop in the building's hallways.
One crowd inspired the country. Another debased the US Capitol.
King had a dream. Trump had a mob.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest in the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021.

King's radical belief in democracy

The January 6 marker may help revitalize interest in King's holiday in another way. More people might pay attention to an under-appreciated aspect of King's legacy: His passionate defense of democracy.
Our system of government could use some inspired defenders right now. President Biden called this month for the passage of new voting rights legislation that would make it harder to steal elections. But a wall of Republican opposition and at least two Democratic senators who reject any filibuster reform has for now doomed that bill.
King lived in an era where the filibuster was routinely used to deny Black equality. NAACP leaders once fumed that the filibuster was the legislative equivalent of a lynching.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
King offers voting rights advocates today a model for explaining why voter suppression laws betray democracy.
"So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind—it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact—I can only submit to the edict of others," he said in a 1957 speech titled, "Give us the Ballot and We Will Transform the South."
That King speech wasn't considered revolutionary at the time. But January 6 now makes King's belief in democracy seem, well, radical.
Most Americans no longer consider their country to be a beacon of democracy to the world. A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed this stat: 72% of Americans say the US used to be a good model of democracy for other countries to follow but has not been in recent years.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., center with arms raised, marches along Constitution Avenue with other civil rights protesters to the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.