Martin Luther King was assassinated 40 years ago. Maybe it’s time for Americans to ask themselves: is there still a dream?

Earlier this month, I found myself thinking of MartinLuther King, and of this question, not because thepress was busy remembering the famed civil rightsactivist — and the anniversary of his assassination — but rather because the press was so silent.

In fact, under the circumstances, it was strikinglysilent.

Why “under the circumstances”? Well, Americans arestill fighting an unjust war, still engaged in uglyracism, still negatively redefining the idea of civilrights. And so, given the nature of our times, wemight have expected a free press, on this darkanniversary, to present a serious, sober,self-examination. We might have expected them to makea poignant reference to Martin Luther King’s dream ofpeace and human justice — and ask how far we havecome.

But there was nothing. Nothing on CNN. Nothing on the“fair and balanced” Fox News. Nothing even in the“liberal” New York Times.

Well, almost nothing.

The New York Times did carry one story on April 4about Martin Luther King — sort of. Buried deep inthe paper, the Times reported the following “news”:the autopsy videotape of King’s assassin, James EarlRay, is for sale.

Ray’s brother, Jerry Ray, is selling the taped autopsyof his brother — some two hours long — for $400,000.With an eye to gruesome irony, Jerry Ray even made hissales pitch for the tape on the anniversary of King’sdeath — while standing near the site of King’sassassination.

So, in April, 2005, why was James Earl Rayremembered and Martin Luther King forgotten?

Was it that the anniversary of the assassination isjust considered historical trivia? Or was it that Martin LutherKing, and his demanding message of peace and hope, isirrelevant.

Consider: in this past U.S. election year, for the firsttime in a generation, conservative Republicans nolonger felt the need to show forced deference toAfrican Americans. What was the result of George W.Bush ignoring the NAACP? Likely, more votes.

So, why is James Earl Ray of interest and MartinLuther King irrelevant?

Is it that the public prefers to look — literally — into the dark heart of a murderous racist rather thanlook into the dark heart of America’s failure tounderstand Dr. King’s vision of peace and socialjustice? Does our reality-television culture finallymirror the shallow, meaningless world in AldousHuxley’s Brave New World?

Or is it that being our brother’s and sister’s keeper — as Dr. Kingrelentlessly reminded us — is out of fashion? Afterall, American culture today is more in tune with thefiery rhetoric of the early Malcolm X. But even here, cultural fascination with meaningless violence hasremoved Malcolm’s angry words from their historicalcontext and forgotten Malcolm’s move towardconciliation later in life; we are left with MalcolmX as godfather to Gangsta rap.

Or is it that Americans are weary of collective socialideals — and they just don’t care anymore? Theultimate celebration of self-interested individualism.The Reagan revolution finally realized.

Does the angry, individualist thuggery of James EarlRay have more to say to America than thecollective dream of a hopeful idealist?

Or is it, quite simply, that Americans are ashamed?

No one wants to remember King and his message, becausehis words cut too close to the truth. Consider hiswords, written in 1958: “To accept passively an unjustsystem is to cooperate with that system; thereby theoppressed become as evil as the oppressor.”

How many of us would wither under that judgment? Howmany of us — by our resignation with, or loss ofinterest in, or our short attention span for, thisillegal, immoral war in Iraq — would accept that weare tacitly “cooperating with the system.”

Not enough of us.

“I have a dream.” Martin Luther King once said, “thatday when all of God’s children, black men and whitemen, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics,will be able to join hands and sing in the words ofthe old Negro spiritual, free at last! free at last!thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Now, 37 years after Martin Luther King’sassassination, Americans should be asking themselves:is there still a dream?

The answer would say much about America.