In telling four congresswomen of color to go back to their home countries – which, as Americans, they’re already in – Donald Trump tells every American it’s OK to go after someone’s ethnicity if you disagree with, dislike or have cause to interact with them.
He tells the police officer it’s fine to consider a motorist’s skin color when deciding whether to stop him for a broken tail light. He tells the school teacher it’s appropriate to factor in the mouthy kid’s race when contemplating disciplinary action. He tells the judge sentencing the drug offender for a first offense to be mindful of her ancestry.
In this way, Trump doesn’t just break from past presidents of both parties who heralded America as a nation of immigrants that welcomes all regardless of their heritage and aims for a color-blind society. He embraces prejudice and gives racists a green light.
And in refusing to join House Democrats in condemning Trump, all but four congressional Republicans show what complicity looks like. They help explain how the silence of onlookers has enabled tyrants and dictators to carry out campaigns of hatred and genocide unchecked. Instead, House Republicans want to sanction Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for using the term “racist” in reference to the president.
In his short time in office, Trump has left little doubt about his prejudices in a way that seems deliberate. He never hesitates to generalize, in words or in policies, about entire ethnic groups – characterizing Mexicans as criminals or Middle Easterners as terrorists. He has called African nations “shithole countries,” and athletes who took a knee to protest racism “sons of bitches.” He claimed former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in America and that an Indiana-born federal judge couldn’t be impartial because he was “Mexican.” While campaigning in Arizona in 2016, Trump declared, “Not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate.”
He flaunts his bigotry in the inhumane practices of separating families at the border, keeping migrant children in cages and claiming they’re still better off than they would be in their countries. And last weekend he authorized immigration raids on thousands of families living in this country. Those are not solutions. They’re cruel attacks on the most defenseless, for show. Now, having severely tightened the criteria for entry, he plans to prevent people seeking political asylum from making their cases on American soil.
His failed effort to put a citizenship question in the Census came across as yet another attempt to sow divisions. And a new NAACP report connects his judicial nominations to judges’ attacks on voting rights. According to its president, Derrick Johnson, “an alarming number of nominees (have) appalling records of enabling or defending voter suppression … Undermining voting rights is now a qualification for nomination to the federal bench. This administration is weaponizing the federal judiciary to restrict the vote.”
On Sunday Trump tweeted about progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who have vigorously criticized his practices. He said they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” That’s though only one was born outside of this country they claim as theirs. His implication was they should shut up and be grateful to be here – even, I assume, if their ancestors came as slaves or helped build the nation in other ways.
“One of them came from Somalia, came from a failed country … and now is not happy here,” he said, claiming she hates Jews because she has criticized Israel, and may support Al Qaeda. Another time he broadened it to “They hate our country. they hate Israel.”
Asked by a reporter if he wasn’t concerned that white nationalists will find kinship with him over these remarks, Trump said he wasn’t. Of course not. He wants their votes.
But the majority of Republicans in Congress refuse to do what’s right and stand up to him. They just capitulate. His counselor, Kellyanne Conway, said on Fox News of the four congresswomen: “They represent a dark underbelly of people in this country. We are sick and tired of people denigrating that American flag, the American military, veterans and America.”
There was a time when people who complained of those in power were encouraged to run for office themselves. But in Trump’s book, that may only apply to people of European heritage. And sadly, too many Americans, while touting America’s freedoms, have twisted the notion of patriotism into blindly supporting the man in office – unless he’s black and had a Kenyan father, in which case you question his citizenship.
Up to 50% of Americans still approve of Trump’s performance. Do they understand how badly some communities are hurt by him?
It feels as if we’ve reached a turning point in America, where we, the people, have to come together from the bottom up to reignite the idealism that drove our movements for liberation, from labor rights to civil rights. That means standing up to the bigotry and cynicism we’re fed from the top down, by forces that have an interest in keeping us divided.
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register.