President Trump is now pretending that when the crowd at his latest bacchanal of hate chanted “Send her back," it caused him great distress. He’s doing what he often does when receiving criticism: Lie about it, but with a lie so obvious that his supporters know he’s not really serious and that he still wants them to go on doing what they’re doing.

“I wasn’t happy with the message they gave last night,” Trump said of the crowd at his rally in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday night. “I was not happy when I heard that chant.”
Pressed by a reporter why he did not try to stop the chant directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Trump said he thought he had done so by starting to speak again “very quickly.”
“I started very quickly, and maybe you know that,” he said.
In fact, the president did not start speaking immediately but paused for about 13 seconds as the chants were heard.

Right now, Republicans are struggling to answer questions about all this in a way that doesn’t implicate them in the fact that the racist president they have slavishly supported is making it quite clear that racism will be the foundation of his reelection effort — and that the most ardent racists among his supporters couldn’t be happier about it.

Those Republicans can’t condemn Trump, let alone the voters on whom their own political survival depends. So they seem to be coalescing around the idea that, while a stray comment here or there might be regrettable, the real problem is the four congresswomen and their hatred for America. A brief roundup:

  • “Is it ‘racist’ to tell people who have contempt for the country — who abhor the common culture that makes us American — that they ought to go back to where they came from?” asks Andrew McCarthy in the National Review.
  • “This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country,” Trump tweets.
  • ”We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” says Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “They hate America.”
  • “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals,” says Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
  • “I’m sort of dumbfounded how unappreciative she is of our country,” says Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about Omar.

Let’s dig down into this idea of hatred for America. What exactly does it mean? If you disagree with the policies of the federal government, does that mean you hate America? How about if you find American culture contemptible? What if you think that core American values such as democracy and freedom of speech are unimportant or unworthy of being spread as widely as possible?

The truth is that, when we say someone “hates America,” we’re describing what we think is a feeling they have. But if you were to ask the conservatives who throw around this charge to articulate a general class of statement that, once uttered, indicates a hatred of America, then show how those four congresswomen’s statements fell into that category, I doubt they could do it.

For instance, many people responded to Omar’s criticism of American policy toward Israel by saying she was anti-American. But if I said, “So you mean that taking the position that current American foreign policy is counterproductive or morally problematic is always proof that one hates America?” they’d probably say, “Well no, that’s not really what I meant.”

Another example: At his rally, Trump referenced the fact that, earlier this year, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said, “We’re going to go in and impeach the motherf----r.” On Wednesday, Trump said, “That’s not somebody that loves our country.” So is it that proposing to impeach a sitting president means you hate America? Is it that using profanity means you hate America?

Trump also has a habit of saying we shouldn’t even espouse our traditional values because we aren’t worthy of them, as in the time he insisted that Russian President Vladimir Putin shouldn’t be criticized for having journalists and political opponents murdered because “What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

The president’s own hypocrisy is beyond argument. But I also want to draw attention to something else: Conservatives constantly criticize American culture, yet somehow no one suggests that means they “hate America.” Why is that?

In conservative evangelical circles especially, America is considered a fallen land that has gone into an irredeemable state of moral depravity. Gay people are allowed to marry, teenagers stubbornly continue to have sex, prayer has been banished from public schools. American culture has become a sewer.

Cultural conservatives believe, and not without reason, that the country has left their values behind. They don’t react to this by saying, “All cultures evolve, even if it can be a little disorienting at times.” They react with anger and dismay, and a desire to change things back to the way they used to be. Does that mean they hate America?

We know the answer: As far as Republicans are concerned, their motives are always pure and their patriotism always beyond question. But when Democrats do exactly the same things as Republicans have done, it is proof only of their seething hatred of America.

When we criticize a Democratic president or his policies, it means we love America; when you criticize a Republican president or his policies, it means you hate America. When we criticize American culture for its licentiousness, it means we love America; when you say racism is still a powerful force in our national life, it means you hate America. When we say our economic system undermines the traditional family it means we love America; when you say our economic system exploits workers and creates inequality it means you hate America.

Speaking of the four Democratic congresswomen at his rally, Trump said, “They speak so badly of our country.” But few things have ever spoken worse of our country than the fact that we made Trump our president. Here’s hoping that what’s great about America will enable us to recover.

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