Trump tells congresswomen to ‘go back’ home
President Trump embraced the most openly racial confrontation of his presidency so far this week, telling a group of nonwhite Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their “totally broken and crime infested” home countries. Trump’s tweets were aimed at a group of unabashedly progressive House freshmen who have been nicknamed “the Squad”: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts. All of the women were born in the U.S., with the exception of Omar, a Somali refugee who became an American citizen as a teenager. After his comments ignited a firestorm of racial and partisan rancor, Trump refused to back down. “If you’re not happy here you can leave,” he said. “That is what I say all of the time. A lot of people love it, by the way. A lot of people love it.”
The House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Trump for his “racist comments,” with every Democrat voting in favor. However, only four House Republicans voted to rebuke Trump. Most GOP officials either defended Trump, or offered heavily qualified criticisms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said flatly, “The president is not a racist.” Maine Sen. Susan Collins issued a statement heavily criticizing the four Democratic congresswomen before calling Trump’s comments “over the line.”
Trump’s attacks helped Democrats temporarily put aside a growing feud between party leadership—which hopes to win back working-class voters in the 2020 presidential election and protect moderate House members—and the party’s progressive wing, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Democrats had to stand with “our sisters.” Trump reacted with glee, boasting that he is “marrying” Democrats to the Squad. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA!” he tweeted. “Not good for the Democrats!”
What the editorials said
“All Americans should be united in disgust at the 45th president’s racist tweets,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. The insult “go back where you came from” has been used throughout American history to belittle immigrants and minorities. It’s always unacceptable, whether it’s being spewed by a “drunken racist uncle” or the president of the United States. Trump “has crossed a terrible line,” said The Boston Globe. Other presidents have espoused racist views through coded language, but explicit racism was understood to be off-limits. “That restraint is gone,” and the “xenophobic demons” Trump has unleashed will not be easily contained.
“What the president did was inexcusable and un-American,” said The Arizona Republic, but “the Squad” isn’t blameless. These congresswomen also use race as a weapon when it suits them. When Speaker Pelosi criticized the four Democratic freshmen for voting against a border bill they thought didn’t do enough to stop migrant detentions, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez accused her of “singling out” congresswomen of color. Sorry, but if Nancy Pelosi is racist, “then the word has no meaning.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s racist tirade lays bare his political philosophy, said Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times. To Trump, America is a “white man’s country” where everyone else is a guest and better be grateful. This naked bigotry informs everything Trump does, from spreading conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace, to trying to change the census to benefit white voters, to insulting congresswomen who represent millions of Americans. It’s why white-skinned European immigrants like first lady Melania Trump are welcomed, while dark-skinned migrants from Latin America “are put into cages and camps.” When he sees people who aren’t white, “he just knows they don’t belong.”
Spare me, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. “Like many Americans, I am tired of being lectured about racism” by social justice warriors who think it explains every aspect of life on Earth. Trump didn’t tell the Squad that they don’t belong in our country because of their race. He was “attacking their radicalism, which they wear like a badge of honor.” The Squad holds our system in contempt, viewing the U.S. as irredeemably racist, exploitative, and imperialist. “For all his flaws, the president calls out anti-Americanism publicly.”
Obviously, Trump’s tweets were racist, said Charles Sykes in TheBulwark.com. That was the point. “As loath as I am to attribute Trump’s impulses to deep strategy, the latest attack reflects his reptilian cunning when it comes to playing the race card.” He wants to make Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, et al. the face of the party—and run against them in 2020. We saw again this week that Americans live in two different countries, said John Blake in CNN.com. One believes that immigration and diversity is a fundamental part of the American story and makes the nation stronger. The other believes the browning of America is utterly transforming the country they once knew into something frightening and unrecognizable. The “sobering truth” is that many Americans hear Trump’s ugly words about people from “s---hole countries” and “nod in agreement.”
“This is the fight Trump, for better or worse, wants,” said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. His brand is “white identity politics,” and demonizing nonwhite women congresswomen electrifies the base in a way that fighting with white Democrats does not. Although Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is a relatively powerless House freshman, one study of Fox News found that the conservative network mentioned her 3,000 times over a recent six-week period. Trump’s tweets make it clear that his “re-election campaign will feature the same explosive mix of white grievance and anti-immigrant nativism that helped elect him,” said Michael Scherer in The Washington Post. Trump managed to scrape out a narrow victory in the Electoral College by driving high turnout of working-class whites in the Midwestern swing states. “The president’s overall strategy in 2016 was successful,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “So it is no surprise he would adopt much the same strategy for a re-election campaign.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Getty, NASA, AP