The poisonous sentiment at his campaign rally was so blatant, so undeniable, that even Trump was compelled to disavow it as public revulsion rose on Thursday. “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it,” he said.
But was he, and does he? The president claimed he “started speaking very quickly” to shut down the chants. He did not. He paused for about 13 seconds to let them build, surveying the scene as they did. Trump uttered not a word in protest.
Upon arriving back in Washington, Trump tweeted with satisfaction: “Just returned to the White House from the Great State of North Carolina. What a crowd, and what great people. The enthusiasm blows away our rivals on the Radical Left. #2020 will be a big year for the Republican Party!”
That “enthusiasm” is toxic. Nonetheless, the most that Republican leaders have been able to muster thus far is a collective furrowed brow.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) was present at the rally when the crowd erupted in calls for the illegal deportation of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of four liberal freshman congresswomen of color whom Trump has targeted in racist tweets and incendiary statements.
Walker wrote on his own Twitter feed: “Though it was brief, I struggled with the ‘send her back’ chant tonight referencing Rep. Omar. Her history, words & actions reveal her great disdain for both America & Israel. That should be our focus and not phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.”
But it should not have been hard. The chant was appalling. The Trump supporters who took it up are disgraceful and indecent.
Walker did recognize that this line could catch on and become a presidential rally staple, as “lock her up” did during Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton. He expressed that concern to Vice President Pence.
There is no small amount of political calculation in Trump’s fixation on a freshman congresswoman. In her brief tenure in Congress, Omar — a Somali-born refugee who became a U.S. citizen as a teenager — has made a number of statements that merit criticism. Most egregious was the anti-Semitic trope of suggesting that those who support Israel are “all about the Benjamins baby.”
For that, she should be answerable, first and foremost to the citizens of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, who elected her.
But instead of engaging her on the substance of what she has said, Trump has declared her to be less than American. He has also subjected her to vicious smears, including a false claim that she supports al-Qaeda, the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks.
Nor was there really any difference between the crowd’s cry to “send her back” and Trump’s tweet over the weekend that Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen should “go back” to “the crime infested places from which they came.” The other members of what is known as “the Squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) — were born in the United States.
During the rally, Trump claimed the congresswomen are “hate-filled extremists, who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say, ‘Hey, if they don’t like it, let them leave. Let them leave. Let them leave. Let them leave.’ They’re always telling us how to run it, how to do this, how to the — you know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.”
Love it or leave it. That has unmistakable echoes of what was said about those who objected to the Vietnam War. And it ignores the fact that this country was founded on principled dissent. Debating ideas is how we have become a more perfect union.
Trump built his own political career by calling this country weak and a laughingstock of the world. In his inaugural address, he invoked not a set of national ideals but the image of “American carnage.”
Even as he tried to distance himself from the chant, Trump described those who employed it as “people who love our country. I want them to keep loving our country.”
Our narcissistic president could not have been clearer: Those who disagree with him are not patriots, and those who do are the only true Americans. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) offered up in a pathetic defense: “I don’t think a Somali refugee embracing Trump would have been asked to go back.”
It has become a cliche to say this president has hit a new bottom. The fact is, it is the same one to which he has taken the country before and will again. And as we learned Wednesday night, his most ardent supporters understand that and welcome it.