When President Donald Trump tweeted that four sitting U.S. Congresswomen should “ go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” it set off a firestorm of a news cycle that continues to reverberate today. The reason for this should be clear.
The tweet itself — from the personal account of the President of the United States — was racist and anti-American.
If you’re compelled to stop reading after that statement, please consider something before you go. Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley are all American citizens. They were all elected by their constituents. Three of the four were born here in the United States. To say that they should “go back” to another country when they are democratically-elected American citizens is so unconscionable that it should be universally repudiated.
I won’t say that the backlash to President Trump’s comments has been universal, but it has been bipartisan and widespread.
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However, President Trump himself has doubled down on his comments for multiple reasons — one of which is the fact that he says there are many out there who agree with him.
This is where the news cycle has broken.
President Trump’s comments were wrong. Full stop. But the conversation has quickly shifted away from the comments to other topics. President Trump and those that do agree with his rhetoric say that the four U.S. Congresswomen (known as “The Squad), have such far-left policies that they themselves are anti-American and this, in turn, makes such rhetoric acceptable.
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The problem with this thinking is that it takes you to a place where the only “true Americans” are the ones who think and look just like you. That is NOT the America that our founders believed in, and it is NOT the America that has flourished for so long. America has always been about the freedom to pursue happiness alongside those who might think or look differently than you. This type of rhetoric encourages us to shed ideals that have historically been at the core of American identity.
The problem with this thinking is that it takes you to a place where the only “true Americans” are the ones who think and look just like you.
I vehemently disagree with many of President Trump’s policies. I think he has hurt our standing as a country through those policies. But I would never say that he hates America or that he wants our country to fail. I would never make it seem that since First Lady Melania Trump was born in another country that her status as a U.S. citizen is somehow suspect (she achieved U.S. citizenship in 2006). I believe that President Trump and his administration sincerely want the best for America, I just disagree with his policies for making that happen.
You can disagree with “The Squad” and their policies. I disagree with them myself on multiple issues. But each one of them is an American citizen. They have been democratically elected. Their consituents believe in their vision for their respective district. To imply that they are somehow un-American is just plain wrong and we need to call it out as such.
If you disagree with the policies of these Congresswomen, debate those policies. That’s democracy! But what President Trump has done is put racial divisions in the forefront. He has been doing this since he led the birther movement that implied that former President Barack Obama was not an American citizen. The birther movement is now nearly-universally recognized for its racism, but this is the exact same strategy. It is an initial stoking of racial divisions followed by repeated attempts to get us all to talk about why that strategy isn’t racist.
It is racist. To claim that it isn’t, you have to do Olympic-level mental gymnastics.
Articles like the Washington Post piece I linked to above showcase how broken our civic discussions have become. Arguments are okay, we need arguments. That’s how we debate policy and move our country foreward. But too often we argue about side issues that don’t get to the heart of the matter. President Trump has been a master of exploiting this by keeping us distracted with little fires every day.
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The point is not how this news cycle affects the next election. It’s not about immigration policy. In fact, this discussion isn’t about any policy, in particular. Those are good discussions to have — necessary ones, in fact. But first, we have to deal with the fact that our President said that sitting U.S. Congresswomen — all of whom are U.S. citizens — were really from another country.
(Again, I acknowledge the fact that Rep. Omar is originally from Somalia. But she has gained her U.S. citizenship. Her situation is no different from First Lady Melania Trump’s. If you are skeptical of Rep. Omar’s allegience to America but you are not skeptical of the First Lady’s, you need to examine why that is the case. And by saying that, I’m not implying that you should be skeptical of the First Lady’s allegiance to America. I’m saying that you shouldn’t be skeptical of either.)
Also, keep in mind that President Trump’s comments have real-life consequences. After he made these comments about these Representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Lousiana police officer went so far to say that Ocasio-Cortez should be shot. Now, President Trump should not be held responsible for every verbal attack against his political enemies. However, he should be held accountable for his words. As President of the United States, his words have a unique power to motivate and inspire. His tweets and comments may not have directly inspired this vile and racist attack, but they certainly make it easier for someone who already felt such proclivities to be more open about their hatred.
President Trump is trying to make it seem that anyone who has a different agenda than his is anti-American. This is the problem that comes from our inability to contextualize politics any different than we do with sports. If you are on “team Republican” you’re encouraged to think that any Democrat is a socialist who literally wants to ruin our country. But most Democrats do not believe that in the slightest. Even the Democrats who are most often labeled as “socialists” are not really socialists in their policies. If you disagree with me on that, consider whether or not you would label former President Dwight D. Eisenhower a socialist. Then consider the fact that his administration had marginal tax rates as high as 90 percent for the wealthy.
…consider whether or not you would label former President Dwight D. Eisenhower a socialist. Then consider the fact that his administration had marginal tax rates as high as 90 percent for the wealthy.
The word socialism does not have much meaning in our current political climate because it has been used to describe every policy of the left. Those on the right can’t imagine supporting socialism, so they begin to think that every Democrat hates America. But they don’t hate America! In fact, they love America as much as Republicans do. They just have a different vision for how to move the country forward.
Just because you have a different vision for how American should proceed does not make you anti-American. In fact, every American should present ideas for how we can make our country a better place.
“The Squad” Should Be Held Accountable for Their Comments, Too
While this header above is true, and I’ll get to that in more detail shortly, I want to be clear that implying they are anti-American or that they are not American citizens is NOT the way to do it. That is a racist, cynical ploy aimed at dividing us even more.
Having said that, the members of “The Squad” have said things that are controversial at best. Let’s take a look at Rep. Ilhan Omar, specifically, since she is the one whom President Trump has called out with the most frequency in recent tweets.
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I couple these two articles together, because I think they give context to the situation. Rep. Omar’s comments were much too careless with a topic as painful to so many Americans as 9/11. And other comments she has made regarding U.S. ties to Israel pushed forward anti-semitic tropes, the power of which it seems she did not fully consider. Here is another article that provides some necessary context to the situation. Rep. Omar should be held accountable for such comments, that is undeniable.
But it doesn’t make any sense to hold someone accountable for making statements you deem to be anti-American by making statements that are themselves anti-American. That is exactly what President Trump did.
However, I want to make it clear — just as President Trump should be held accountable for his comments, these representatives should be held accountable for theirs. They don’t get a pass. I just think that you have to reach farther to find their comments as disrespectful to American insititutions as President Trump’s were.
If you see Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, or Ilhan Omar as anything other than democratically-elected U.S. citizens, there’s a major problem. Because that is exactly what they are. If you think President Trump deserves the respect of the office that he holds, then you must give these Congresswomen the same level of respect.
If you think President Trump deserves the respect of the office that he holds, then you must give these Congresswomen the same level of respect.
Obviously it is okay to disagree with the policy positions these Congresswomen hold. In fact, it’s okay to vehmently disagree with them and use harsh language to say so. Our freedom of speech affords those rights to us.
But just because we have the freedom to say something doesn’t make it morally right.
We used to live in a world where political opponents would not resort to saying that their counterpart hated America or was somehow anti-American. Unfortunately, we live in a world where that is no longer the case. If we want that to change, we need to call out trespasses when we see them. President Trump crossed a line, and it has taken our national discussion to a very dark place.