Yet another reason to be angry at President Trump: He is forcing me — and every other American who is not a racist — to defend the most left-wing members of Congress. These are the four newly elected members who make up the so-called Squad: Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.).
In the past I have been quite critical of Omar for her blatant anti-Semitism (a charge that has also been leveled at Tlaib) and of Ocasio-Cortez for her cavalier attitude toward the facts. I am no fan of the Green New Deal, which, as Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, just admitted, isn’t really a “climate thing” but a “how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing,” i.e., just what Republican critics have been claiming. I am concerned that the willingness of Ocasio-Cortez and other firebrands to embrace the “socialist” label and to call for shutting down (rather than reforming) Immigration and Customs Enforcement plays right into Trump’s hands.
Their readiness to imply that anyone who disagrees with them is a tool of corporate interests or even a racist is name-calling that has no place in our politics: Ocasio-Cortez complained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is “singling out … newly elected women of color,” and Chakrabarti (who acts like a member of Congress, not a congressional staffer), even more outrageously, compared moderate Democrats to Southern segregationists from the 1940s. The Squad’s opposition to legislation that would allow better care for asylum seekers flooding across the southern border — they were the only four Democratic no votes on an emergency $4.5 billion border funding bill passed by the House — shows they are more interested in making a statement than making a difference.
So there is quite a lot that can be said in legitimate criticism of the Squad. But what Trump said on Sunday is not legitimate criticism. It is as blatant an example of racism and xenophobia as we have seen in our politics in my lifetime.
As anyone who has not been on the moon (or at Wimbledon) now knows, Trump tweeted: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”
This is the kind of rude imbecility that I have heard in recent years from anonymous Trump trolls. They regularly tell me, a Russian Jewish immigrant, that I should go back to where I come from; their only uncertainty is whether that is Russia (the place where I was born and whose citizenship I lost when we left in 1975) or Israel (a place where I have never lived). Their xenophobic and anti-Semitic intent is clear. So is Trump’s racist intent. It doesn’t matter that all four members of the Squad are American citizens or that three out of the four were born here. (Omar was born in Somalia.) In the world according to Trump, anyone who is not a white, native-born Christian is not a real American.
Trump is a bigot and doesn’t even bother to hide it. In fact — and this is the truly appalling part — he parades his bigotry in the expectation that it will win him votes. And — what is even worse — he may well be right. Such appeals to prejudice might be exactly what Trump needs to mobilize some blue-collar, white voters in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida who haven’t seen any economic benefit from his tax cuts, much less his trade wars. Trump can’t reopen steel mills or coal mines — but he can stigmatize people of color and win the votes of bigots. I wish that weren’t the case, but I fear that it is.
Many Trump voters, to be sure, aren’t racists. But all who support him do not consider his blatant racism to be a breaking point. Many Republicans turn a blind eye to Trump’s bigotry because something else — tax cuts or judges or Israel — is more important to them.
Sorry, Republicans. There is nothing — nothing — more important in the United States than racism. Where you stand on that one issue defines who you are as a human being. Silence is complicity. All Republicans who stand mute in the face of Trump’s latest racism are telling you who they really are. It’s an ugly picture of a morally bankrupt party that has now embraced racial prejudice as a platform.
I am ashamed to have spent most of my life as a Republican. I have significant differences with Pressley, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Omar — perhaps even greater differences on the issues than I have with the president — but they are better Americans than Trump.