I want to be frank and direct from the outset: President Donald Trump’s comments over the past few days suggesting that four House members of color should “go back … [to foreign countries] from which they came” are inaccurate and racist, spewed with apparent glee by an ignorant public official who revels in lies and racist tropes for the amusement of his political supporters.
That’s the bottom-line explanation for Trump picking a fight with first-year Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), whose brash, outspoken opposition to White House policies has earned them the ire of the administration, as well as criticism from within the House Democratic leadership.
Such is their political celebrity, they’ve been nicknamed “The Squad,” a moniker that suggests a political fighting style not typical of the freshmen on Capitol Hill.
In an effort to sow dissension within the House Democratic caucus, Trump tweeted his racist comments over the weekend to draw attention to a highly publicized rift over divergent legislative approaches offered by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and The Squad.
So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion. Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, “RACIST.” Their disgusting language…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2019
Asked by reporters during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday about his attacks on the congresswomen, Trump repeated his demand that they leave the country, if they disagree with his administration’s policies.
“Go wherever they want, or they can stay,” he said. “But they should love our country. They shouldn’t hate our country.”
No matter that they’re American citizens. Three of them — Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Pressley — were born in this country and Omar, the first Somali-American member of Congress, emigrated to the U.S. as a child and became a citizen in 2000 at age 17.
In Trump’s apparent view, their dark skin and sharp-tongued disagreements with him makes them foreign and un-American.
This resonates with some Trump admirers. For example, Alan Walter, 65, who lives in Boston and is represented by Pressley, told NPR that he might make a comment like Trump because he doesn’t adhere to political correctness. In fact, he said it’s Democrats who are being racist by making a big issue of what Trump says.
“The racist thing is so burnt out, man,” he told NPR. “It’s such a sad, sad thing. It’s such a lame label to throw [around], to just say, ‘Oh he’s a racist.’ It’s the easiest thing to do.”
As if Trump’s comments hadn’t been offensive enough, the president ratcheted up the offense by trying to conceal his warped, nationalistic view under a threadbare cloak of support for Israel and his fight against anti-Semitism.
“What they did and the way they’re treating Israel is a disgrace,” Trump said during his Cabinet meeting. “But not only Israel, it’s what they say about our country.”
Looping in Israel and anti-Semitism with his racism wasn’t a wise move, as it expanded the circle of people condemning his comments from Democrats in Congress to include Jewish community leaders.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, an organization of rabbis, cantors, and other Jewish leaders, expressed outrage at the president’s comments.
“These tweets were absolutely racist. Full stop,” she said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “It was an attempt to use Jews as a wedge issue. His racism has nothing to do with Israel, and the Jewish community is not standing for it. Please don’t try to use us as a shield for your racism.”
That view was shared by Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, who said in an interview that members of her community were already opposed to the president’s polices on immigration, border security, and refugee denials, as well as rejecting his comments in support of white supremacists following their deadly 2016 Charlottesville rally.
“Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to that and are appalled by his justification of his racism at our expense.”
As a dad raising a brown child in America, this terrifies me. If elected officials & the Pres can be so openly racist, questioning ethnicity, using terms like “go back to where u came from”, who’s stopping ‘proud Deplorable Tom’ from telling my family the same at a grocery store? https://t.co/k8QDLWu8Gz
— A. Sharif (@Abdu11ah) July 16, 2019
Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill were united in calling out Trump’s racist rhetoric, voting en masse Tuesday night in favor of a resolution to condemn his comments attacking The Squad. (Only four Republicans and the lone independent supported the nonbinding measure, which passed by a vote of 240-187.) In particular, Pelosi set aside any concerns about her political disagreements with the freshman lawmakers to denounce the president.
“[T]he President’s comments about our colleagues this weekend show that he does not share those American values,” Pelosi said in a House floor speech during the debate over the resolution. “These comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting and the comments are racist.”
Noticeably absent from those raising howls of protest against Trump’s racist comments were key officials within the GOP, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who said Trump is “not a racist.” Yet, he said, “I think the tone of all this is not good for the country.”
Indeed, it is a terrible turn of events for the nation.
Trump has taken over the GOP, compelling its leadership to slavish and sycophantic support for any and all of the president’s abuses. Fearing a backlash from Trump’s tweeting fingers or his loyal and racist supporters, Republican lawmakers are unwilling to provide any discipline for Trump’s outrageous behavior.
What’s worse, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) sought to have Pelosi’s comments struck from the record, citing rules that forbid members from attacking one another or the President on the House floor. It was an ironic political move, since Pelosi was condemning the racist comments made by the president himself.
Such is the through-the-looking-glass quality of Trump’s tenure, a moment in history that provokes wonderment over this pathetic downturn in our national ideals. It seems the only respite is still more than a year away with the hope of ending the president’s political career — and racism — with the 2020 presidential election.
This story was updated to include the House vote to condemn Trump’s racist comments.